Dream Treader, published by Thomas Nelson and written by Wayne Thomas Batson, is a contemporary fantasy for middle graders/young adults.
– – – – –
Chapter 1 – Night Terrors
The howls grew louder. The hounds were closer, closing in.
“They’ve got my scent!” Archer Keaton growled as he raced down the moonlit mountain path into a misty dell full of black pines. “Gotta throw them off.” But how? Then he knew.
Archer launched himself skyward. He let his feet brush the treetops a moment, and then purposefully let himself crash down through the crisscrossing pine branches.
Creak. “Ouch.” Crunch. “Oof!” Crack! “Oww!”
The fourteen-year-old yelped with each bounce, smack, and breaking branch. He tumbled to the ground in a sticky heap. When he stood up and tried to brush the pine needles from his coat, vest, and pants, the sap kept most of them glued tight. “Good,” Archer whispered. “The more sap, the better. Now, gotta go!”
He broke out from beneath the pines and sprinted across the uneven ground. The howls were still there. Deep, throaty, mournful howls. And they were still getting closer.
“No way!” Archer grumbled, searching for any near place to get cover . . . shelter.
Something was behind him. In the pines. Something big enough to snap a tree trunk as if it were a twig. Archer knew there were only a few creatures in the area large enough and heavy enough to do that kind of damage, but which beast was it? He had a suspicion but hoped he was wrong. That creature hunted in packs,
Archer spotted the ruins of an old castle, just a half-collapsed keep and a leaning tower in the crook of a patch of broadleaf trees and more pines. He drove his legs like pistons and dove into the trees. The teenager’s sudden arrival startled some blackbirds from their roosts among the branches. They cawed, croaked, and cried their harshly voiced displeasure, but Archer paid them little mind. He careened around the trunks, stumbled to a knee, but drove on.
“Breathe, Keaton,” he commanded himself. Archer ducked under an archway in the old ruin and flattened his back to the stone wall inside. “Just breathe.”
“What’s the matter with you?” a high, nasal voice asked.
Archer jumped. Heart thrumming, he looked down and found his hands no longer empty. He’d summoned a pair of hand grenades.
“Ohhhhhh,” the voice said, right next to Archer’s ear. “You’re a Dreamtreader, aren’t you?”
Archer spun left and right but saw nothing. “Where are you?” he gasped.
Archer craned his neck around. The voice really was close. It sounded a little like Razz. No, it was a little huskier and had an odd warble to it. Besides, Razz wanted nothing to do with Archer’s mission on this night.
“I still can’t see you,” he said.
“Of course you can’t,” the voice said. “I’m stuck here inside your coat!”
Archer willed the grenades to vanish and groped inside his long leather duster. There was nothing there—wait. he felt something prickly, and his left hand came back with a sticky pinecone.
“See, here I am,” the voice said, and Archer felt a faint vibration in his palm.
“You’re a pinecone?” he asked.
“No, you doofus,” the voice said. “I’m a pine coon. There’s a big difference!”
Just then, four little clawed feet popped out. A fluffy, black-and-gray tail uncurled as well. And, as Archer stared, he discovered two brown eyes glistening and blinking from a dark mask of fuzz at the con’es point.
“A pine coon?” Archer echoed. Then he shrugged. Why not? Anything was possible here.
The little creature’s dark nose twitched. It flicked its head side to side and squeaked. “Uh-oh!” Instantly, its eyes, nose, limbs and tail disappeared into its pinecone torso.
“What?” Archer blurted. “What’s wrong?”
The howl that came next was so loud that Archer felt the sound as much as he heart it.
“Chuck me into a tree!” the pine coon whispered urgently.
There were noises outside the ruin. First, a violent snuffling; then, the scrape of claw on stone; and finally, a very low growl.
“Please! Chuck me, chuck me, chuck me!”
“Just one second,” Archer whispered back. “Where can I go?”
“High place,” the pine coon said. “Tower?”
Archer had to cross the open courtyard to get to its stairwell, but the creature was right: the tower was the only real shelter.
Another how. Archer leaped away from the wall and bounded across the stone-strewn courtyard. Just before the Dreamtreader ducked into the stairwell, he tossed the pine coon over the wall and into the waiting branches of a tree bushy with needles.
Up the curling stairs he went. After a long climb, Archer found himself in the highest chamber of the turret. He knelt by the window and dared a look out into the night.
The trees surrounding the ruins were swaying, but there was no wind. Archer saw something dark moving among them. It was a ridge of black fur . . . the spiky spine of a creature, and it was at least twelve feet off the ground. Here and there, the moonlight caught a slisten of red or yellow eyes.
Archer had hear the hounds many times. He’d seen their silhouettes from a distance. But he’d never seen one up close. That’s because I’ve never been stupid enough to get this close to Shadowkeep, he thought. Until now.
Archer sensed something. He dropped down beneath the window sill and held his breaht. A growl rumbled just outside. Archer cringed. At the same time, he summoned up every bit of will and concentration he could muster. He wasn’t certain what he would do, what he would summon to defend himself, but he had to be ready.
The growl trailed off, and the snuffling began again. The turret chamber grew darker. Archer sank down even lower. When he looked up at the window, a leathery black snout hovered there. It twitched and throbbed as it sniffed filling the air with humidity and a musky scent.
A sword? Archer thought. Stab it right in the nose. Maybe a stick of dynamite? No, two sticks . . . one for each nostril. Or maybe a chain saw?
The snout rose higher and angled at the window. There was a sharp sniff followed by an angry snarl. Then, the hound’s snout withdrew. A howl rose in the distance, while an answering howl echoed just outside the window.