A Preview of

The Arrow Bringer

Chapter 1: Unthinkable

        This can’t be happening to me. Yesterday I was worried about applying for college, and now I need to start planning my funeral.

       I feel like I’m trapped in a bad dream. All our plans, our entire family… shattered by one single word.

      “Cancer?” Dad breaks the spell, his voice hoarse as he puts his arm around me. “How can Evangeline have cancer?”

      Dr. Naveen’s brow furrows over his deep brown eyes. “Perhaps Kirstin and Shiloh could wait in the lobby, Patrick?” He looks toward Dad who’s frozen. Instead, he turns to Mom. “Maddie?”

     I glance over at my twin sisters. Their faces are red, matching their curls. My older sister instinct takes over, and I know they need me. “I’ll wait with them.”

     Dr. Naveen hesitates. “I think you should stay, Evangeline.”

     I shake my head. “No, thanks. I don’t want them to be alone.” I take each of their hands, leading them gently into the hallway.

     I sneak a peek over my shoulder, worried about Mom and Dad as Dr. Naveen closes the door. I don’t know who needs me more. Ever since I was adopted, I promised myself I’d take care of my family. I don’t know who will protect them if I can’t.

    Kirstin, Shiloh and I settle on the couch in the waiting area. They lean against me, and I wrap one arm around each of them. I can hardly fathom that, just an hour ago, we were all chatting about dinner plans before my sisters’ basketball tryouts. Then Kirstin and Shiloh had done their customary teasing because I’m working on a project tonight with Shawn Lawrence.

     An hour ago, I had my whole life ahead of me…

     “Evie?” Kirstin’s blue eyes are filled with tears.

     I manage to keep my voice from shaking. “Yeah?”

     “Mom and Dad are out.” She points toward them, and my heart sinks when I see that Dad’s hair is a blazing red mess, a tell-tale sign of bad news.

     Shiloh’s eyes are puffy. “He looks upset, Evie. Should we—”

     “I’ll check on them. Stay here.”

      I follow Mom and Dad as they disappear into the stairwell. I stop dead in my tracks when I see them through the small window in the door. Mom is embracing Dad, whispering things as they cry in each other’s arms.

     Immediately, I understand. I wish I didn’t. But my whole life I’ve had intuitions, and they haven’t been wrong yet. But this time… I wish they were.

      I’m not going to make it.

       I don’t want to face it, but eventually, I won’t have a choice. I’ll be gone.

      Kirstin and Shiloh are crying again but don’t speak when I sink onto the couch. Mom and Dad emerge seconds later, having regained their composure.

     “Evangeline,” Mom tucks a strand of blonde hair behind her ear, “you’re going to meet us at the car in a few minutes. Dad wants to talk to you alone in the garden.”

     “Why?” Kirstin grips my arm.

      Mom bites her lip, her blue eyes glistening. “It’s okay.” I know Mom hates crying in front of us. “Go with Mom. Dad and I will be right there. You still need to eat dinner, so you can focus on basketball tryouts tonight.”

      “No way,” Shiloh grabs my other arm. “We’re not leaving you alone.”

      “I don’t want you to miss it. This is important to you, and that makes it important to me.” I pull them into my arms, kissing each of them on the head. “And I won’t be alone. I’ll be at the library with Shawn.”

      “All right.” Kirstin releases my arm. “Thanks, Evie.”

      “You’re welcome. I love you guys.”

      “Love you, too,” they both reply, in perfect unison.

      Mom hugs me next. “You’re being so brave. I love you, Evangeline.”

      “I love you, too, Mom.”

      I’m completely numb as she releases me and takes my little sisters by the hand. Dad’s face is expressionless as he hugs me. I don’t ask what Dr. Naveen said, because I don’t want him to speak my fate aloud. As soon as he does, it’ll be real.

      We leave the lobby, and I find myself wishing I could somehow freeze time for a little while. But, much too soon, we reach the garden. Built between Dr. Naveen’s office and the hospital, it’s a place to relax or meditate.

     Tall hedges bearing roses grow in the center of the garden, encircling a more intimate area lined with benches. Dad leads me toward a bench, and we sit.

     This place is familiar and comfortable to me, and I’ve always felt at home here. “You used to love this place. After every visit with Dr. Naveen, you’d beg me or Mom to bring you here.” Dad takes my hand. “You were so much fun to watch. We couldn’t get enough of you.”

    “I’d… I’d give anything to go back. Even to yesterday.”

     Dad swallows hard. “I know, Sweetheart.” He wraps his free arm around me. “You know I’m no good at this. Remember the day you figured out you’re adopted?”

     I smile. I was only three years old but had already noticed I was different. With doe-brown eyes, dark brown hair, and tawny brown skin, I didn’t resemble my fair-featured family. “We were sitting right here. I brought it up before you had the chance.”

     “You’ve always been so incredibly intuitive, Evangeline. And so beautiful.” His voice breaks. “Your mother and I are so blessed to be your parents.”

     “I’m so blessed to be your daughter. I love you, Dad.”

      “I’ve loved you since the moment I laid eyes on you. That was the first day I became a dad.” He sighs.         “There have been difficult times… being a father. But this… this is the hardest.”

      I can tell by the tone of his voice that he’s about to speak the words that no parent should ever have to. More than anything, I wish I could save him from that. But I can’t. All I can do is help him, so he doesn’t have to do this alone. “I already know, Dad.”

      “I know you do.” He kisses me on the top of my head, having to clear his throat several times. “When          Dr. Naveen first noticed the irregularity in your blood, he ordered further tests.” Dad pauses, his voice thick. “You have acute lymphocytic leukemia. It can appear sometimes in sixteen-year-olds.”

       “Is it hereditary?” I ask, breaking my rule of never referencing my birth parents.

       Anger burns within me when Dad nods. I’ve always resented my birth parents for giving me up. Now I hate them for doing this to me.

       At last, I utter the question I’ve been dreading. “How bad is it?”

       A long silence follows. Dad’s breathing becomes more ragged. “It’s serious, Evangeline.”

I finally have to look at Dad. He’s obviously a complete mess, but he manages not to cry. “How long do I have?”

       “Dr. Naveen thinks it might just be a couple months.” A tear slips down his cheek. “We made an appointment for you with an oncologist on Monday afternoon. Dr. Naveen has already put you on the list to get matched with a bone marrow donor. There are several treatments we can try in the meantime… but… they’ll decrease your quality of life. And… most likely…”

       I don’t want him to have to tell me. “They probably won’t work.”

       Dad says nothing but pulls me into his arms as I start to cry.

Chapter 2: The Project

      By the time six-thirty rolls around, I’m waiting for Shawn at the library. At my insistence, my parents dropped my sisters off at tryouts. I wanted Mom and Dad to have time to come to grips with what’s happening.

     As stupid as it sounds, I need to work on this project with Shawn. I need to be normal… at least for a little while longer.

    Presently, someone parks next to me, and Shawn nods in my direction as he gathers his things. He walks around to my door, startling me when he opens it. “Hey, Evangeline.” His blue eyes twinkle as he smiles at me.

    “Hi, Shawn.” I’m glad to see him despite everything going on. “Let me just grab my bag.”

    “I got it.”

    “Thank you. That’s really nice.” I notice his blonde hair is mussed, his pale skin and clothes covered in dirt. “Were you landscaping today?”

    “Yep. I was uprooting bushes. So,” he adds, puffing out his chest and speaking in a British accent, “ready to write a thesis about how C.S. Lewis still inspires modern day literature?”

     I actually smile. Shawn suggested that we pick C.S. Lewis because he’s one of Shawn’s favorite authors. Aside from this, Shawn thinks it’s ironic that my last name is also Lewis. “Sure thing. And thanks again for being my partner.”

     Shawn shrugs it off, which is his way. “You’ve been partnering with me on projects since the eighth grade. Thanks to you, my grades are always awesome. Don’t go anywhere next year, I want to finish off strong.”

     But I won’t be here next year… I don’t even know if I’ll make it to May.

By the time we get to the bookshelves, I’m almost in tears. I try to dodge Shawn before he can notice, but I’m not fast enough. “What’s wrong?”

     I plop in a chair, not wanting to have this conversation. Aside from my family, I don’t open up to people. Shawn doesn’t know I’m adopted, my legal name, or that my sisters call me “Evie.” I can’t even fathom telling him I’m dying. And not because he wouldn’t care… but because he’s such a nice guy he probably would. It’s not fair for our first real conversation to be about my death. “I shouldn’t be crying like this.” I manage to get a grip on myself. “I don’t know you that well. I’m sorry.”

     “It’s all right. If you want to talk, that’s okay with me. You seem like you could use a friend.”

     The word “friend” strikes a chord in me. The next thing I know, I’m admitting things I’d never tell my family. “I’m really having a tough time. I just… I’m not ready to... Have you ever thought about death?”

     He soaks in my question. “A few times. I’m not afraid, because once I’m gone, I won’t know it. But I hope I can leave the world a better place. And… I hope I’m remembered.” He falters. “Are you going to lose someone, Evangeline?”

     I can’t do that to Shawn.

     “I know someone who’s dying.”

     “Oh man.” He studies me. “Want to work on this later?”

     I shake my head. “I don’t want to be alone right now.”

      He hesitates before pulling a book out of his bag. “I brought The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s from The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. My dad read it to me when I was a kid. Ever heard of it?”

     I shake my head. “We don’t read a lot of fantasy books at home. But we should include it.” We both head for the shelves, selecting more of Lewis’s works, as well as biographies on his life.

     As we work, Shawn makes extra efforts to cheer me up. He uses his British accent for the next two hours, and I laugh so hard that the librarians keep shushing us. Somewhere along the line, we give up on the project because we keep getting distracted by The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. And for a while, I forget about everything, except working on a project with Shawn for Mr. Sidely’s class.

      But all too soon the library closes, and we go our separate ways.

      Then, just like that, everything comes rushing back. I remember I don’t have much longer, my life will be over soon, and I won’t even remember it.

Chapter 3: The Wrong Choice 

     The next thing I know I’m in a dream, standing on a marble porch outside a majestic temple under a dazzling full moon. Great, glittering columns support the temple’s magnificent roof. Beyond the columns are immense, jeweled doors. 

     The doors beckon me. It’s like someone I’ve always wanted to meet is waiting for me. But if I enter those doors, there will be no going back to life as I knew it. I’m not ready for that… but I wish I were. 

     Approximately twelve city blocks to my left is a shining, splendid castle, with gleaming parapets and spires dancing their way into the sky. A huge stone wall protects the entire perimeter. 

     Instinctively, I realize two things. First, I’m standing within a palace city. Second, I’ve dreamed about this place every night of my life. 

    The breeze envelops me, bringing the scent of honey and roses. I follow the fragrance to the left. With every step, this place feels more welcoming, more familiar, and not just because I’ve visited in my dreams.  

    At last, I reach a marble enclosure. The wrought iron gate swings open at my touch, and I enter a garden about the size of my backyard. Curved benches line the wall, as well as rose-like flowers that caress me with their honeyed scent. 

    I approach the center of the garden, where I’m usually standing when the dream ends. Within it is a cylindrical silver pillar, entwined with jeweled vines. Atop the pillar rests a shining golden arrow. 

    And just like that, I realize… I’ve been here every night… waiting for something. Every night, I’ve forgotten this dream. I make a silent vow to remember this time, no matter what. 

    Suddenly, light swells in the garden, so blinding I shield my eyes. My heartbeat quickens because I don’t think this has ever happened. When the glow abates, there’s someone walking toward me, but he’s little more than a silhouette against the moonlight. 

   “Peace be with you, Evie.” 

    Indescribable happiness fills me at the sound of his voice. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever felt, except when  I wanted to enter the temple. For reasons I don’t understand, I’m immediately drawn to him. 

    When the illumination fades, there is a golden-haired man with olive skin and a faint beard. A quiver of golden arrows is slung on his back. He is clothed in a red tunic that tucks into a wide, tan leather belt, white trousers, and brown sandals. 

    What captivates me most, though, are his eyes. They’re honey-brown but shine a myriad of colors, as if reflecting a sunset. The moment I meet his gaze, I know this isn’t a dream.  

   “This is a vision or something, isn’t it? Who are you? Did you bring me here?” 

   “I am the Arrow Bringer. You are standing in the palace city of Giuda, in the country of Aletheia.” He motions for me to come forward. “Behold, my arrow, which has protected Aletheia since its creation four thousand years ago. This arrow must never be touched, unless by my instruction, or terrible consequences will befall Aletheia.” 

    “Um… what does it have to do with me?” 

    “You have beheld this arrow every night since you were a child. And every night for the last year, you have wished to journey to Aletheia when you weren’t dreaming.” 

    “But you’ve never been here before,” I prompt, remembering these thoughts. 

He shakes his head. “I have been here every time.” 

    “Then… why couldn’t I see you until now?”  

    “I have attempted to speak to you before. But you did not wish to hear me until tonight, nor even remember this dream. While your heart has always been open to me, this is the first time you have willed to be ready for your life to change.” 

    His words stun me as I consider my thoughts outside the temple doors. “Change…” I’m hardly able to fathom his words. “Change, how?” 

    He motions toward the gate, and my jaw drops at the lavishly dressed woman who appears. It’s as if I’m seeing through a window of time and witnessing my future reflection. 

I take in the dark hair beneath her tiara, her doe brown eyes, and tawny brown skin. “Who is she?” But I have the feeling I already know. 

    “Her name is Katalin. She is your birth mother.” 

I hug my arms against myself despite expecting this answer, something tickling at the back of my mind. I vaguely recall being furious with my birth parents, but I can’t remember why. 

    Katalin now waves to a beige-skinned, brunette man outside the garden, also dressed in silky clothes and wearing a crown. He smiles back at her with his blue eyes, revealing his dimples as he holds out a white rose-like flower for her. “I brought you an Amuree.” 

    Katalin greets the man with a kiss. “Is that…” I glance towards the Arrow Bringer. When he nods, my stomach flip flops—I’m seeing both my birth parents. I’m immediately seized with a strong desire to speak with them.  

    “Thank you, Baeddan. It’s beautiful.” She inhales its honeyed scent. “I’ve just come from the temple. I was giving thanks to the Arrow Bringer.” 

    Baeddan’s smile instantly vanishes. “Again? What has he ever done for us?” 

    “Baeddan!” Katalin glances around and then lowers her voice. “Shush! What if someone hears you talking like this?” 

    “What of it, Katalin?” He waves off her concerns. “What have I to show for my faith? You have grown more ill. We have served the Arrow Bringer all these years. And yet he did not grant our one request. Either the Arrow Bringer never existed, or he is dead.” 

    Baeddan storms out of the garden in a huff. Katalin drops the Amuree as she tears after him, both of them arguing as they disappear into the night. I sink onto the bench. Now that my birth parents are gone, the reality of what’s happening overwhelms me. A hundred questions swirl in my mind, but I’m not ready to know the answers.  

     “Do Mom and Dad know?”  

    “Your parents once loved Aletheia well. But no longer.” 

     I jerk my head up.  

    “Why wouldn’t they tell me…” The Arrow Bringer is staring off into the distance, his brow furrowed. His expression banishes any betrayal I might have felt. Whatever the Arrow Bringer sees matters far more. “You didn’t bring me here just to tell me where I come from.” 

    He shakes his head. “I did not.” 

    “Then why? Why are you telling me this?” 

    He turns to me. “Aletheia is going to suffer. I’ve come to ask for your help to save it.” 

    “Me?” I stare at him “Why… why me? What could I possibly do?” 

    “If you are willing, I can work through you. And then these events will not occur.” 

    “What events?” 

    The Arrow Bringer motions to a portion of the sky. “Behold.” 

     Suddenly, the world shifts so violently I grab the sides of the bench. I watch as time flies forward, as the sun rises and sets. One day passes, and a heavy darkness sets upon the world as we reach the evening of the second. It’s pouring down rain, and thunder and lightning explode in the sky.  

     A cold shiver goes through me as Baeddan once again enters the garden. Stubble lines the contours of his cheekbones, and dark shadows hang under his eyes. In his hand, he carries a golden arrow, which is a striking copy of the one on the pillar. 

     I don’t know what comes over me. My instinct is to wrest the fake arrow from him. The powerlessness enrages me. 

     With one swift motion, Baeddan grabs hold of the true golden arrow with one hand and slams his false arrow in its place. Immediately he cries out and drops the real arrow, his hand badly burned. Without hesitation he snatches it up again, ignoring his smoking flesh. 

    He glares at the heavens. “This is for killing my daughter.” My stomach lurches as he snaps the arrow across his knee, throwing the broken pieces to the ground. He spits on them before disappearing into the blackness of the night. 

    The result is immediate. A blistering wind blasts through Aletheia, carrying the pallor of death. A chilling roar erupts, followed by the smell of rotting flesh. A horrifying, enormous black dragon with blazing crimson eyes plunges from the sky. It opens its mouth as it reaches the garden, swallowing both pieces of the golden arrow before vanishing. 

    Then the screaming starts. 

    I clap my hands over my ears as one scream resounds above all others, reflecting intense, excruciating pain. And that’s when I know I have to stop this. I have a responsibility to protect Aletheia. If I don’t, then I’m just as guilty as Baeddan.  

    I sense the Arrow Bringer’s hand on my shoulder, and we’re back in the present. I rise shakily, knowing I believe him, that I owe him my allegiance. He could have asked anyone to do this—but he chose me. And he wouldn’t be asking unless it was important.  

    “How can I stop this?”  

     The Arrow Bringer studies me. “If you come to Aletheia, Baeddan will repent of his intentions. Your presence will mend his heart and restore his faith, as well as the faith of many.” 

     I nod numbly, still processing everything. “Who was Baeddan talking about… when he mentioned his daughter? Was he talking about me? Does he think I’m dead?” 

    “He was referring to your sister. She died from the same disease plaguing you.” 

It’s like the wind’s knocked out of me. Somehow, I’d forgotten I have cancer. I collapse onto the bench, wishing I could return to when I thought this was a dream.  

    I grapple with myself for several minutes. In my heart, I’ve known the right choice since I witnessed the vision—to help Aletheia—no matter what it meant for me.  

     Until I remember I’m dying. 

     I can’t abandon my family the way Katalin and Baeddan abandoned me. Not when I might never make it home. I have to choose them. And I’ll have to live with my decision. 

     “I’m sorry.” I close my eyes because I can’t bear to look at the Arrow Bringer, “I can’t.” 

I regret the words immediately but don’t take them back. When I open my eyes again, I’m lying awake in bed. I toss and turn for the rest of the night, haunted by nightmares of broken arrows, screams, and dragons. 

     When I awaken, I know I’ve made two unforgivable mistakes. The first is refusing the Arrow Bringer and betraying Aletheia. The second is knowing what I’ve done and yet not doing anything about it. 

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