Chapter One: Elijah
Teri sighed as she lay down on the dry grass in the clearing, closing her eyes to the sun and bathing in its warmth. It was spring but it was a hot, dull spring; and she couldn't recall any like it before. Most of the townspeople spent their time indoors, waiting for the day to cool before they ventured out, but Teri reveled in the heat, loving the way it soaked into her skin, and seemed to sink into her bones.
The sound of a footfall disturbed her. She opened her eyes, waiting for her eyes to adjust before slowly sitting up and looking around her. Her dark, curly hair swirled around her shoulders and she tucked it behind her ears impatiently.
"And what's a young girl like yourself doing all the way out here?" drawled a deep voice from her right, startling her nonetheless.
The voice came from a man standing in the shade of a tree, twisting a stick of wood carelessly in his hands. He wore a thin white vest over a pair of dark trousers and looked to be several years older than her. He had light hair with a fringe that fell into his eyes, and a well sculpted face. His features were symmetrical and sharp.
"I'm sorry but do I know you?" Teri asked, arching an eyebrow to cover how uncomfortable she suddenly felt.
The corner of his lips tilted into a half smile but disappeared just as quickly. "No, I don't believe we've met," he answered, his eyes focused on her carefully. "But I recognize you."
Teri frowned. "Right. And who are you?"
The man smiled again, surprising her with dimples. "Shouldn't you ask me how I know you?"
"It's more important to know who you are, I think."
He folded his arms, and was obviously amused by her response. "And why's that? In case I kidnap you and hold you hostage?"
"Something like that."
"I'm Elijah. Elijah Harrison."
"I thought you were Justin Howards' daughter. Terrelyn."
"Yep, Teri for short," she nodded carefully. "And how do you know who I am?"
"From the Season Art competition."
"Oh," she nodded, understanding dawning on her face. Mazenbires' council had recently run an art competition asking local teens to draw a season. Teri had of course picked summer. Her painting had depicted the town bathed in light as the sun began to rise and she had hoped to capture the euphoria she felt when she saw those rays reaching out over the land, chasing away the shadows. It represented the start of a new day; a new beginning.
Strangely enough, for a town that seemed to dislike the heat, the council had chosen her submission, praising it for its artistic quality, and her father had been called on to the stage to present her with the award: £100 and a small trophy. It didn't seem like a huge deal, but the next day, their front doorstep was overrun with reporters, all of whom seemed eager to get to know her better.
That had been a few months ago however, and things were quieter now. Teri disliked the loss of her anonymity, and felt a sliver of annoyance at the man standing in front of her. She couldn't even escape into the forest for a few moments of peace without being recognized.
"Well done on the painting by the way," Elijah added, tossing his fringe back and throwing the stick on to the floor as he straightened. "But I can't say I'm a big fan."
This took Teri by surprise and she stooped to slip on her sandals as she asked, "Oh, why?"
"I just don't like the season you picked," he replied simply. "I prefer the darkness, and the cold. Winter."
Unsure how to respond to this, she shrugged and started to walk in the direction of her home. Elijah fell into step beside her, and she glanced at him uneasily.
Catching her, he smiled easily. "What? I'm heading this way too."
"Where do you live?"
"Not far from you."
Teri felt another sliver of annoyance. "And how do you know where I live?"
"Teri, everyone knows where you live. It's in our interests to know."
"What do you mean?" she stopped, confused by his use of 'our'.
He didn't stop, but ignoring her, continued on ahead.
"Wait. Who are you again Elijah?" she asked, catching up to him. He ignored her, as if she wasn't there.
"Hey!" she said grabbing his arm, decidedly ticked off now. "I said, who are you?"
He turned to face her slowly and she suddenly noticed that his eyes were deep blue, darker than the cloudiest of nights skies. A gust of cold air appeared from nowhere, and Teri slowly withdrew her hand from his arm, feeling afraid for no reason she could understand.
And then she blinked, and the feeling was gone, and Elijah was smiling, showing her his dimples. His eyes were clear and beautiful. He ran a hand through his hair as he replied, "I'm new in town. Relatively."
When she didn't say anything, he added, "I live by the old castle, in the cottage by the river."
Teri's eyes widened, and she repeated cautiously, "You live in the Mills Cottage?"
"Yes," he nodded, smiling again but now it seemed forced.
Teri ran her hands over the front of her blue dress, her arms suddenly covered in goosebumps. She had always believed that the cottage was haunted.
"Well, it was nice meeting you Terrelyn," Elijah said suddenly, his voice formal and cold. "I'm sure we'll see each other again."
Teri nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She fidgeted with her bracelet as she waited for him to walk away, but when she heard nothing, she glanced up again, confused.
He was nowhere to be seen.
"Where have you been?" her mum shrieked as Teri walked through the front door to their home a half hour later.
She shrugged, rolling her shoulders. "In the forest."
"Teri, we have guests tonight, remember?" her mum said exasperatedly. "I told you to be home for five!"
Glancing at the clock above the mantelpiece as it chimed to remind them that it was seven 'o' clock, Teri gave her mum what she hoped was a sincerely apologetic look. "I got carried away."
"And what are you wearing? You need to get changed. They'll be here any minute!"
"Okay, I won't be a minute, don't worry."
"Go, quick," her mum shooed her away, turning to her older sister Anastasia (Anny, for short) to fuss with her jewellery.
Teri had forgotten that tonight was the big night. Anny had started work at the local secondary school a few months ago as a Maths teacher and had met Mark, another teacher in the same department. And it had been love at first sight, or so she gathered. Last week, Mark had proposed and they had become engaged, but tonight was when his family would meet Anny's family for the first time.
So, it was a big deal and she had been stupid to forget it, Teri reminded herself. It was important to Anny and so, she couldn't afford to mess it up. It wasn't her fault though that she had been delayed, she reminded herself. Stupid Elijah had seemed to mess with her sense of direction because it took her almost an hour to find her way out of the forest. This disturbed Teri on a deeply subconscious level, because she never got lost. She had grown up in those woods, and she couldn't understand how it had happened.
The doorbell rang just as she reached her room, and she groaned. Ten minutes to shower, change and make herself presentable. Tops.
"Wonderful to meet you Teri," Dania Smith smiled at her warmly, extending a manicured, soft hand.
"Thanks. How are you Mrs Smith?" Teri greeted her, shaking her hand.
"I'm very well, dear. How are you? I've heard so much about you from Mark."
This was news to Teri, since she'd only met Mark twice, and although they had made small talk, it had been limited to the usual topics that a teacher would discuss: school, aspirations, career plans.
She glanced at him now as he sat next to Anny, looking slightly uncomfortable in his formal attire, but nonetheless handsome.
"I'm well," Teri replied shortly, but with a smile, unsure of what else to add. After a pause, she greeted Kyle Smith, Mark's Dad, who had a loud voice, but a pleasant twinkle in his eye as he shook her hand, and asked about her too.
After a while, Teri ducked into the kitchen to help her Mum serve a few drinks.
"They seem nice," her Mum whispered anxiously. "I hope they like the food. I spent all of today preparing it."
"It'll be fine, Mum. Don't stress."
Teri returned to the reception room and poured the drinks, before perching next to Anny on the edge of the sofa, swirling her glass of ribena without enthusiasm. She felt uncomfortable in her heels and already itched to take them off. The dress that Anny had asked her to wear was knee length and white, with beads along the hem and collar, but it was soft against her skin and comfortable, so Teri didn't mind so much.
Their mum joined them from the kitchen and the conversation centered around Anny and Mark, with the Smiths getting excited about having a wedding to plan for their only son. Teri zoned out after a while, feeling guilty as she wished she were still in the forest. But it was dark out now anyway, and she hated the dark. Elijah's face came unbidden to her mind and she shivered unconsciously. She wondered why of all the places to stay in Mazenbire, he had chosen the Mills' cottage. No one had lived there for as long as she could remember, and she was certain it was haunted. She had been there once, with her best friend Tommy on her fourteenth birthday. It was supposed to have been a birthday to remember, and it was, but for all the wrong reasons.
Because as she had walked into the dusty cottage, the door creaking as Tommy held it open behind her, she had felt something. A presence. It had been something she could not describe to this day. But It had been there, watching them as they tiptoed through the house to the first floor and then to the balcony overlooking the river from the master bedroom. She remembered thinking that the house did not like her. That It did not like her, and that was when the floor beneath her cracked in a perfect circle, and she fell straight into the river, hitting her head on a sharp rock.
The month that followed was hazy. All she recalled, and from what others had told her, she had been admitted in to the hospital on that first day, and the Doctors had stated she would die; that her injuries were fatal. But a day later, she had regained consciousness and within a week, she was walking. Her memory wasn't affected, nor were any of her other cognitive functions. The healthcare professionals couldn't believe their eyes. They called it a miracle.
"Teri? Are you okay?" Anny's voice was low and gentle as it scattered her thoughts.
Teri started guiltily, and remembered where she was. "Yeah sorry sis, just zoned out there for a moment."
"What were you thinking of?"
"Nothing important," she smiled easily.
"Are you sure?" her big sister frowned. "It looked like it was important, whatever it was. You looked scared. Is everything okay?"
"Everything's fine, okay sis," Teri said, leaning onto her sisters shoulder. "Relax, it's your night remember."
Anny wasn't so easily convinced but let it go, as her future husband asked her a question and she turned away to answer.
The doorbell rang then, startling them all with its shrill tone.
"That'll be my husband, Justin," their mum said to the Smiths with a smile.
"I'll get it," Teri volunteered and cheered up at the thought of seeing her Dad. He had been coming home late for the past few days, his work forcing him to stay at the office far longer than usual.
Swinging the door open, Teri couldn't help the smile on her face as she saw him there, his briefcase grasped in one hand, his tie askew.
"You're late," she joked as she gave him a hug but he groaned and held himself stiff.
"Teri, take me..." he gasped suddenly and dropped his briefcase, reaching out a hand as he doubled over, coughing.
"Dad? Dad, what's wrong?" she grabbed his arm, trying to support his weight but he suddenly collapsed, his hand slipping from her grasp.
"I'm sorry," he whispered and then he closed his eyes and sighed as the air gushed out of his lungs.
Teri grasped his hand again, and shook his shoulder. "Dad? Dad! Wake up Dad. Dad!" she shouted, her voice taking on an edge of hysteria.
But her dad didn't respond, and lay silent and still at the doorstep.
Teri's father was dead.
A/N: Hey everyone :) If you've got this far, I'm assuming you've read this chapter. So please review and let me know what you think! Any constructive criticism would be much appreciated, and any ideas you have on who Elijah is or what the story will develop into would be great too, because I haven't completely figured out the plot myself yet! Thank you in advance :) x