Chapter 1: To the Northwest, and Don’t Look Back
It was a bright and sunny day in early August. It was thirty-two degrees outside, but the inside of the New Orleans airport terminal had a pleasant breeze flowing from all directions.
Much of the airport was empty. Alex Prior sat in a corner seat at the end of an empty row with one leg folded under his thigh and the other on the floor, tapping away at full speed. He’d spent much of July in voluntary solitary, practicing archery with his beloved recurved bow - Aetherius.
He had first realized his love for the sport when he was twelve. His uncle, Wylliam Prior, had visited and it was the first time Alex had met him. Being an adept archer after growing up practicing it endlessly, Wylliam traveled the world for years teaching archery to any willing learners. He’d finally decided to take a two year vacation and visit his older brother, Grayson. He wasted no time in showing Alex the beauty and backbone of the bow, although he wasn’t a strong enough force to convince Alex’s mother to let him take archery classes for when he left to travel again. So, Alex settled for the few lessons Wylliam could provide in the meantime.
Before Wylliam left back for his travels, he gave Alex a neatly crafted longbow made of oak. He knew it would be the trickiest thing in the world, keeping it a secret from his mother, but it was worth it.
Alex’s father, Grayson Prior, sat across from him. He tapped his phone screen -- which wasn’t illuminated -- at the same speed as Alex was tapping his foot. He’d spent much of July finalizing preparations for relocation of his business, Prior’s Hardware Priorities, which was set to re-open up shop in a week.
Back in February, Alex’s mother, Julia, had encouraged him to try out for a school sport. He didn’t really like the idea, but he more so didn’t want to disappoint his mother. So when March came, he took a chance with soccer tryouts, and couldn’t believe he’d made the team. Around late April, his first game was happening. Early that morning, his mother had mumbled something at breakfast that sounded to Alex like, ‘of course’. Only his father came. To Alex’s surprise, they won, but he opted-out of celebrating with the team and went to the ice cream shop with his father instead.
When they got home, Grayson dashed to the fridge and Alex was right behind him, when he heard strange noises coming from upstairs. The door to his parents bedroom was ajar, and from it Alex saw his mother ravishing a man that wasn’t his father. He slowly backed away from the door just as his father was coming upstairs. Alex found himself in a state of shock; after Grayson barged in, all he heard was faint yelling, mostly his father’s. He heard another voice that sounded familiar, but he couldn’t make it out. Someone suddenly rushed out -- Wylliam -- who stumbled to a stop in front of Alex. Neither of them said a word, but there was remorse in Wylliam’s eyes. Alex turned away and went downstairs, leaving the house. He sent his father a text that he would out for a while. He stopped by their tool shed to get the longbow Wylliam gave him, then decided headed into the woods nearby it and started a small fire with two thick pieces of sticks. He tossed the bow into it and watched it burn away until it was nothing but ash.
When he got home later that night, Wylliam had left for the airport to catch his flight to the Philippines and return to his work. Alex’s parents were getting a divorce, and his mother was moving out. The next morning around 8 a.m., Grayson was headed off to his car in the garage so he could get to work, and was followed by his son. Alex had an idea, and some anger to vent, so Grayson let him tag along to the store. When they arrived, Grayson gave 60 dollars, and then went off to his office.
Alex bought a few logs of yew wood, a few pounds of metal, metallic string, dark blue paint, and asked the manager if he could use their hands-on tool room. After about two and a half weeks of spending most hours of the day in that room, Aetherius was born. He got the name from a history book during his history class one day. He didn’t remember what it was affiliated with, but he adored too much to care. He quit the soccer team to focus on fine tuning his archery skills. For reasons not even he was sure of, he always had a tendency to isolate himself from kids at school, claiming they were not ‘interesting’.
One day, about four weeks after the incident at the Prior home, Grayson discovered an opened envelope with a lavender letter -- three pages long -- folded inside, on the kitchen floor by a partially closed backdoor. It was addressed to Alex, from someone Grayson didn’t know. He knew he shouldn’t have read it, but he did, and he almost couldn’t believe the things this person was saying about his son. At the end of the letter, was an address for a town that he wasn’t familiar with, except for the name of the city it was in. Grayson had an idea.
And now Alex was 17, and he and his father, along with Prior’s Hardware Priorities, were moving to Vancouver.
Alex’s foot tapping came to an abrupt stop. “Tell me why we’re moving,” he demanded.
Grayson slowed his phone tapping. “I told you, Lex. Business is getting slow,” he said.
“But I talked to Larry, and he said business was fine.”
“Maybe, but..it could be better. And we can do that in a new place.”
“Father.” Grayson flinched. “Don’t lie to me.”
“Alright...couple months back, I saw a letter on the kitchen floor. I’m guess you dropped it when you went out. It uh...was written on these lavender sheets of paper.” Alex froze. “And I know I shouldn’t have, but I read it, and the way that person was talking to you -- about you, like they’ve known you for years. It made me so happy. And then I saw their address at the end of it, and I got this idea. And I knew right then, that it would all be worth it. That you’d likely be happy there instead of here.”
Alex considered him for a second. “So...we’re not just going to Vancouver, we’re going to-”
Grayson nodded, “Moonhaven.”
Alex ran a hand through his short, dark brown hair. “Did you happen to read the warning about that place in the letter -- about the bizarre ways it can make people act?”
“I did, and though it does sound very exaggerated, it’s still worth it. Don’t be a loner, dude. Go find your squad goals.” Alex frowned at him. “It’s what the kids at your school are saying.”
Alex leaned forward and flicked his father on his forehead, “don’t do that.” Grayson held his hands up in defense.
“Well, now that we’re getting things out in the open, mind telling me how you met this person from Moonhaven?”
Alex sighed, “this site called BeFriendMe.com, has an option to find a penpal for you. And, some weeks after the whole mom and uncle Wylliam thing, I guess I...actually started feeling lonely. No way was I up to making friends around here, so I decided to try something a bit old school. I didn’t think it would last. Kinda glad it did.” Grayson smiled at him. “Get it together. Don’t wanna be late for our flight.”
“Our flight’s not-”
An announcement suddenly filled the airport, ’all passengers boarding the 208 Westliner to Vancouver, please head to the boarding gate now. Thank you.’ Alex got up with his things and started for the boarding gate.
“How does he do it…” Grayson whispered to himself as he shuffled his dark brown hair. He quickly caught up with Alex, and boarded onto the plane.