I totally based the festival after the Sweet Corn festival in Iowa. It’s my favorite. I love corn too damn much.
Tian had dozed off when the car came to a stop outside an odd looking place. Apparently, Shen Yan’s voice hadn’t. Simon shook him awake as the others started to fight their way out of the door. The parking lot was massive, vast and expansive and filled with hundreds of other cars. Trees rose up in small banks, separating some of the parking spots from others. They were skeletal as winter wielded its ugly face. RT opened the door for him.
“The others should be here soon.”
Before the blue haired man could pull out his phone, another van came up to a parking spot beside them. A man with long, white hair hopped out before opening the side of the van. Two other guys poured out, helping a familiar boy down onto the pavement.
“MANI!” Shen Yan shouted before tackling the younger boy in a hug. “Let’s go! Let’s go! I need Ice cream.”
“Maniar?” Tian asked, coming around the side of the van to see the same boy from the cell. Maniar looked up at him before bursting out into a smile. The smaller boy tackled him in a hug, grunting in happiness. Tian patted the top of his head before meeting RT’s gaze once again. He mouthed ‘thank you’ before wrapping his other hand around Maniar’s small form and lifting him up with his impressive strength.
“Well… it’s something we do every year. It’s a little morale booster that RT plans out,” Shen Yan bragged with a wide, goofy smile. “Maniar comes with us most of the time, usual RT fetches and sneaks him out, but this time it was Ren!”
The white haired man huffed with his arms crossed. RT patted the man on the back before facing the park. “Let’s go. I want Shen, Ren, Esper and Darin with Maniar. The rest of us with Tian.”
Shen Yan saluted before racing off with Maniar in tow. The younger boy barely kept up. RT chuckled quietly before handing a card over to Ren. “Make sure they get in.”
Ren nodded with a half-hearted sigh before taking the card. He took off after the boys with heavy footsteps. RT waved at their group to follow after, slipping face masks up over their faces. Luke whirled his keys on his finger as they entered through two huge iron pillars.
Tian was immediately greeted with brightly colored tents held up by thick, strong ropes just as brightly colored as the tarps. Beneath those tarps sat long tables filled to the brim with different trinkets and food. Despite the cold wind blowing across the road, swirling large brown leaves into the air, the people smiled and talked with energy. Tian could smell delicious food wafting upwards, traveling along the breeze just as heavy. Loud music blared down the pavement and people huddled near the center of the street with full hands and a jump in their step. They swayed and danced to the music leisurely before taking another drink out of their cups.
Further down the road, it branched off to huge structures with bright blinking lights. Music blared from those structures as people boarded into them and strapped themselves in. They screamed as the structure started to move, throwing their hands up in the air before disappearing. Each machine acted different, some twirled, some followed a track, while others rose up high into the sky with long spindly arms.
Tian froze where he stood, watching his group get further and further away with each second. The street reminded him too much of home when the festival of the new year would start. Villages traveled to his home and the party would kick off loud and light-hearted. They’d drink merrily and Maria would shoot off expensive fireworks she’d save up to buy from the Capital. And Tian couldn’t help but feel sick for his home once more. He longed to see the long pine trees that stretched up into the sky, taller than anything Tian had ever seen before. He longed to see the sunset beyond the mountain ridges and the piles of snow that would settle overnight. He missed sneaking out of the house with Axel and heading into the caves before Maria ever noticed he’d disappeared. He missed his home, the one place that made him feel safe. But it had been reduced to ash, the spirit that made it home had been snuffed out.
Most of all, he missed the stag spirit that kept him company. That protected him when he couldn’t protect himself. He missed seeing it on the sloping hills to the East of home, a stone’s throw across the river. Then it would turn towards the rising sun and disappear for another month.
Eventually, RT paused and turned around to meet Tian’s eyes. He pulled the mask down his chin and said something, but the words were lost in the commotion. When Tian didn’t respond, RT held his hand out towards the boy. For a brief second, the light reflected off the man’s shoulders, shrouding them in a bright light. He swore he could see the stag’s outline behind the man for a brief second before it was gone. Tian stepped forward without realizing he had. His hand automatically reached out to take RT’s. A sense of calm and warmth spread up through his arm and settled deep in his chest. Tian found that he couldn’t let go. And he hated it.
Tian was dead on his feet when they returned later that evening. He fell asleep in his seat, clutching the tiger RT had won for him. His funnel cake had slipped to the floor as he lay across the seat. RT turned the van off and looked back through the rear-view mirror.
“Catch you in the morning,” Luke stated as he slid out from the front seat. He disappeared into the dark.
He’d dropped the other boys off already across the bridge so they could get something to eat before the lights went off. Tian was still asleep and RT didn’t have the heart to wake him up. He got out of the car, pulling open the side door, He threaded his arm underneath the boy’s legs and his back before lifting him up against his chest. He stumbled up through the back door towards Tian’s room. He caught one of the late night maids’ attention and got the boy’s door opened before he kicked it shut with his foot. He stalked across the room, laying Tian down on his bed before stepping back. He made to turn around when an arm reached out to grab him.
“Wait,” Tian whispered, pulling him forward. “I need you right now.”
He couldn’t say no to those beautiful eyes. He kicked off his shoes, pulled his shirt over his head before sliding into the bed beside Tian.
Wyatt Ragnar Taurin stood alone against a snowy outcrop leading straight down for quite a few miles. His dark clothing weighed heavily on his shoulders as he took another step forward, peering further down into the vast drop where a beautiful waterfall once flowed. Despite all of his layers, Wyatt shivered pathetically. His hands shook, unable to keep warm as the temperatures only continued to plummet. His shoulders trembled as the snow seeped into his boots and froze his toes. He clutched a pickax lightly in his childish hands, fearing the worst.
“DAD!” He shouted down into the ravine, but a reply never came back. He looked out across the lodge where the path to one of the last known settlements had disappeared.
Wyatt grit his teeth as he knelt towards the edge. The barren, skeletal trees swayed above his head leading into the forests of the mountains. Snow threatened to fall once more from the storm clouds. A dry cough racked his large frame as he stood up once more, eyeing the ground for any possible tracks. It had been eight days since his father had left, a trip that only took 4 at the most. The food back home had become scarce, even the roots that Wyatt had learnt to dig down to had disappeared, used up until they remained no more.
He turned around to find the path home, only to have forgotten which way he’d come from. Panic built up in his chest as the white crystals of snow started to fall from the heavy clouds and cover his own tracks home. A crisp bell like sound cut through the barren waste land, ringing all the way from the settlements afar. All around him, what remained of the birds had gone silent, the caribou long since fled. Even the quiet of the powdery snow seemed to give its own warning, a warning to flee.
Wyatt Ragnar Taurin knew that bell well, he’d heard it a hundred times. And he’d barely survived it, each time, huddled so close to the fire that the smoke firmly imprinted itself on his lungs. Even inside the concrete shelters his father had built before his birth, they barely survived. He’d built them back when the scientists still existed and had given their fair warnings. Rips in the ozone layer and temperatures far beyond what any living being could withstand. At least that’s what they said. His father’s stubbornness, and the stubbornness of others who refused to leave their homes made up the unity of the villages. The same villages that lived throughout the Appalachian Mountains. And in each village, there existed one bell. The warning bell. It would ring when the fluctuations of the cold temperatures turned fatal. Those who didn’t escape quickly enough became statues of ice, permanently. The frost would creep along the tops of the snow, crawling its way up the trees that had long since died. And any living thing the killer frost touched would cease in movement immediately. The frost worked its way up the spine into the brain, and after the immense cold, the living beings would fall asleep standing up. Never to move again.
Wyatt ran, faster than he’d ever run in his life. He dropped his pack and his weapon. He looked behind himself, watching the frost as it crawled its way towards him like a clumsy infant. The bells went quiet throughout the hills, the frost having frozen them solid. He couldn’t help but remember the day his younger brother, Henry, froze solid right in front of him. Hands outstretched, Wyatt’s name still on his lips.
He ran out across the river that once flowed strong through the Appalachians, out towards the middle. But the frost was fast, it hit his legs and excruciating pain shot up his body. He cried out, collapsing right as the ice gave way beneath him. Hundreds of layers of once solid ice shattered and he sank deep beneath the chilly currants. It dragged him down hungrily, with icy claws. With his legs entirely frozen stiff, he could only weakly fight his way to a light that was quickly dimming. The ice sealed up at the surface, gaining thickness ever so quickly. Wyatt banged his fists against the solid wall blocking him from sweet oxygen. His lungs burned and he fought until he couldn’t no more. His eyes started to close slowly and he went limp in the embrace of the icy water. It rushed into his lungs and froze solid inside him.
RT woke with a start, gasping for breath and clawing at his own throat. He fell to the floor, pulling his knees up to his chest to stop the panic from reaching any further.
“RT?” Tian shouted, startling awake at the sudden movement. RT’s vision was starting to blur when the boy’s blonde hair finally appeared. A hand touched his face before retracting in shock. “You’re freezing!”
“I’ll be ok,” RT rasped, clawing at his chest when his breathing refused to slow down. Tian grabbed the man’s hand and pressed it to his face.
“I know you’ll be ok, but count to ten with me. Ok?” Tian asked and RT nodded slowly. “1...2….”