Ten Minutes Before Midnight

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     “EMMA, ROW!” Drew shouted over the crashing waves. He gave me a desperate look while dewy raindrops clung to his black hair.       

    He doesn’t have to yell I’M SCARED too! “I AM! THIS THING WOULDN’T BE MOVING IF I WEREN’T ROWING IT!”     

    Drew grunted back at me.

      Brothers!! I shivered. The rain soaked me to the bone. The wind tossed our little row boat back and forth. The dark waters rose dangerously. My pulse hammered in my chest and tears threatened to spill over my cheeks.

    Thunder rumbled in the distance.  It’s treacherous to be in water when there is lightning. My hands slipped on the oars.

    “Emma watch out!” Drew’s loud cry split the air.

     Oh no. A large wave crashed over the row boat and flung me out. I plunged into the water and it seemed to close in around me. I forced my eyes to open. They were met with inky darkness. Come on Emma, kick. You can to this. It’s not the end. My arms and legs thrashed in the water. I don’t think I can keep this up for much longer. Water filled my nostrils, my movements grew slow, and my soaked clothing dragged me down. It felt as if an anchor was strapped to my foot.  I need to…

    All at once a strong arm yanked me upward. It was Drew pulling me up into the boat.     

     “Emma! Emma! Please say something!”

     My stomach churned. “I think I may be sick. Oh I’m light headed.”  I concentrated on breathing and opened my eyes. I looked into Drew’s face and met his concerned gaze. “Drew, you just saved me.  I don’t know what I would do without you.”

     Despite the circumstances a small smile graced Drew’s lips. “You can say that again.” His eyes went to the water. “Okay, so we have to get out of this water, somehow.”

    “But how? We’re lost!” A shiver went up my spine.  In the distance I saw some kind of splotch. Could it be land? Wait, but why didn’t I notice that before? Wouldn’t I have seen it earlier? That’s strange. I puzzled. Well we can’t go that way anyway. We have to go in the direction of home. I sucked in a breath. Where is home?  

    Drew pursed his lip and pointed to the splotch. “I think that is our best bet, it looks like land.”

     No it’s not. I opened my mouth to argue but he put up a hand.

     “Emma I’m tired and wet and trying not to freak out. That looks like land so we are going to go towards it. Got it?” Drew’s firm voice was not to be argued with.

    “Got it.” Hot tears rolled down my cheeks and I wiped them away. I can’t cry right now.

     He blew out a breath. “You ready?”  

     NO!! What if it’s not land?! What if it’s something bad?! What if we die in the process? I closed my eyes. I can’t think like that. I took several deep breaths to calm myself. “Yeah, I’m ready. What do you want me to do?”

     Drew sighed. “All we can do is row.” 

     I fidgeted and put my hands on the oars. “Wouldn’t it be better if we tried to swim?”

     He shook his head. “I won’t take the chance of either one of us drowning.”

     Goosebumps formed on my arms as it sunk in. I almost drowned. If Drew hadn’t pulled me out I would have died. I trembled.

    Drew broke through my thoughts. “Emma look at me.” I raised my eyes to his. “I know what you’re thinking but I don’t want you to dwell on it. Okay? We just need to focus on surviving right now.”

    All I could do was nod. Okay. I glanced down at my watch and did a double take. 11:50PM. I frowned. Ten minutes before midnight? The water must have messed it all up. I shook my head. Drew cleared his throat. Oh. My attention fastened on him.      

    “I know that you feel cold and shaken. But we have to move. Let’s go.”

     I gulped. “Okay.” We turned the boat in the direction of the patch of land. Then we were off, rowing as fast as we could. Please be land.

*

     The sun was setting when Drew and I dragged the row boat onto dry sand. We had been rowing for hours and we were exhausted. I collapsed onto the sand. Drew followed suit. We made it. My breath came out in short gasps as I gazed up at the pink sky. The sky is pretty but where in the world are we? I turned my head to Drew. “Where are we?”

   He had his eyes closed. “I don’t know but at least its land.”

   Now that we are out of the water what’s the next step? “So what should we do now?”

   Drew groaned as he came to his feet. “We need to start a fire in order to get warm.” He studied the sand. It seemed to have an orange glow. “You go and try to find some sticks to start the fire but don’t go far. And don’t go and start worrying about other things, we’re focusing on getting warm right now.” He gave me a pointed look and mumbled something under his breath.

    “Who says I was worried?”  Drew smirked. How does he read me so well? Probably because he is my twin brother.

    We were both going off to college soon and today was supposed to be a day of remembering our childhood and celebrating the future. But it had turned into a nightmare when the storm came.     

     I turned away from the water and faced an overgrown forest. The setting sun provided light which I was thankful for. What if there are wild animals out there? I pulled my wet sweater closer to my body and shuddered.

    I stepped over a purple-ish bush and grimaced when my foot hit a sharp rock. I wish my shoes hadn’t fallen off. I glanced back to see Drew gathering rocks for the fire pit. Good, I’m in view. I walked farther and stared up at one of the many trees. It’s light brown trunk was thin and the branches that came from the top of it were greenish blue and feathery. I have never seen a tree like that before. It almost seems magical.    

    I forced my gaze to the ground. Sticks, I’m looking for sticks. To my delight there were many scattered on the ground. I picked them up one by one. When squatting down to grab a particularly thick stick something odd caught my eye.

    “What is that?” In the far off distance through a parting of trees I saw a giant black building. My eyes widened. It looks like an outline of a castle. I squinted and moved towards it.   

    “Emma do you have those sticks?” Drew called.

    Oh. My feet stopped in their tracks. Right, the sticks. I took one last glance at the mysterious object. “I’m coming.” I walked out of the forest with my pile of sticks and looked at what he was working on. On the orange sand there was a circle of rocks that surrounded a hollowed area. That’s good. “Nice firepit.”

    “Thanks.” Drew took the sticks from me. I sat down on the sand.

    The Castle!  “You wouldn’t believe what I just saw out there Drew.”

    Drew smirked while he worked on the fire. “I bet I wouldn’t.”

    I pulled my knees to my chest and ignored him. “It looked so cool! Guess what I saw!”      

     “Hmm, uh did you see your favorite movie star, Chris Evans?” Drew arched his brows.  A  warm glow started to emanate from the fire pit.   

    I wish. “No, I saw a huge building.” I paused for effect. “I saw a castle!”

    Drew stared at me then burst out laughing. “A castle?!” He pointed at me. “Good one Emma, you had me going for a second.”

    I frowned. “I wasn’t kidding Drew. It’s true. I saw a castle.”

    Drew eyed me, doubtful.

    Before I could reply, a mournful cry echoed in the distance.  “What was that?”      

    “Shh.” Drew stood up. He listened as the noise came again. It was closer this time and his face went white. “We need to get out of here.”

    I gulped and jumped to my feet. “Where should we go?”

    Drew frowned. “I don’t know.”

    The castle. I squirmed. “We could go to the castle.” His face became blank. But you don’t believe me so why bother.

    Drew touched the top of one of the thicker sticks to the fire, making a torch. “Show me.”

    We ran through the forest as fast as we could.  I led the way and Drew brought up the back with the makeshift torch. As we ran the forest seemed to change. All of a sudden everything was greener; grass and flowering plants covered the ground and I heard a gurgling stream.  That’s weird.

    My pulse pounded in my chest as a low growl shook the forest. Hairs rose on the back of my neck. What kind of animal is that? How many sounds can it make?

    “Emma wait.” Drew whispered.

    What? I looked back at his awestruck face then noticed that we were in a clearing.

    Oh. Towering in front of us was the castle. Wow. We both gawked. The castle stood dark and looming. It had many towers which seemed to stretch on and on into the sky. It was plain, made of rough gray stone.  We were in a courtyard without any outer walls or a gate.  It was filled with statues of knights and horses. I wonder who lived here?  

   A loud cracking noise came from the woods.

    I jumped and grabbed Drew’s arm. “What was that?!” Perspiration built on my forehead. He tensed.

   “I don’t know and I don’t want to stay here and find out. Come on!” Drew started towards the castle door.

    A tall bush shook. Get away. I ran after him, not daring to look behind me. Drew reached for the door handle and threw open the door.  I bolted inside.  He closed the door with a loud creak. WHAT IF SOMETHING LIVES IN HERE? I shivered. My eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light inside the castle.  

   Drew went to what looked like a lantern sitting beside a large stone fireplace and lit it with his torch. “There that’s better,” he said.

     Light flooded the room and I marveled. How beautiful. The ceilings were high and murals were painted on the walls. There were scenes of ladies and men dressed in royal robes with crowns upon their heads. There were knights with their swords held high, ready for battle.

    Twenty feet away was a stunning staircase that went up and split into two different directions. Its carving was magnificent. “What is this place?”      

     A growl came from outside the door.

    “Ah!” The spell was broken. I looked back at the door. It shook as if something was ramming into it. “Drew, that thing is at the door!”

    Drew grunted. “Here.” He handed me the torch and started moving furniture in front of the door. The sound came again.

    Drew gave a nervous chuckle. “Man, that thing must be hungry!”

    I almost stumbled. “This is not a time for humor Drew!” I followed him with the torch and moved chairs with my free hand. “Hurry up!”

    “I know, I know!” He moved one last heavy table in front of the door and nodded. “That should do it.”

   The door stopped shaking. That must be enough weight to keep it at bay. I sighed and gave the torch to Drew. I leaned against a wall and slumped to the ground. “Drew how are we going to get out of here? We didn’t tell Mom where we were going although the absent rowboat should be an indication. But what if they do discover the rowboat is gone and think that we’re dead? Are we going to have to survive on this island for the rest of our lives?” My head went into my hands.  I sobbed.  

    I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard Drew’s consoling voice. “Hey, don’t say stuff like that. We’re going to be alright, someone will find us. It may take them awhile but that’s okay. We have shelter and we have each other.  It will be okay.”

    You’re right. I wiped my nose and lifted up my head. “Thanks Drew.”

    He gave a half smile. “And why should you worry? You have your big brother to take care of you, what could go wrong?”

    I snorted. “Ha! Big brother by two minutes!”

   Drew shrugged. “It works.” He put out the torch and brought the lantern over. He slid down against the wall a few feet away. “Get some sleep. We’ll think more of what to do tomorrow.”

    “Okay.” I crossed my arms and curled up into a ball. My eyes grew heavy and I fell asleep.

    Suddenly, someone was shaking me. “Stop, just a few more minutes.” I rolled over.

    “Emma wake up, wake up. Something or someone is out there.” Drew whispered in my ear.

    I sat up and rubbed my eyes. “What?” I opened my eyes all the way. Right, we’re in a castle.

    Drew leaned towards me, his hair sticking out in every direction. “Emma do you hear me?”

    “Sorry, yeah I hear you.” I stood up with him. The sound of scratching came from the other side of the door. Why is that thing so set on getting in here?

    Oh no. My eyes widened as a hole split through the door. Red eyes stared back at me. I froze. We’re going to die. My arm jerked as Drew grabbed me and started running up the staircase. “Where are we going?!”

    “Away from that.” Drew gestured back and his face turned ashen. “It’s almost broken through the door! Here, go in front of me.” Drew pushed me in front of him.

    We ran through a wide hallway decorated with paintings of war scenes. Then we came to a crossway. I slowed down. “Which way?”

    Drew pushed me from behind. “It doesn’t matter! We just need to avoid getting eaten!”

    I ran to the right but everything started to look old. The walls looked as if they could crumble any second. The floors turned as thin as ice.  What?! A loud crack split the air and I fell through the floor, Drew calling after me. Then everything went black.

*

    I became aware of a bright light above me and my head hurt. “Drew?”

    “I’m here Sis.”

    I felt someone take my hand. I tried to open my eyes, they felt so heavy.  I blinked up at Drew. “Where am I?” I licked my lips.

    “You’re at the hospital.  Here’s some water.”  

    He held a cup up to my mouth and my throat hurt as the water went down.

    “I’m at the hospital? But how? The last thing I remember is falling through the castle floor.”

    Drew grimaced. “Sis I don’t know what you are talking about. But I don’t want you to worry, the doctor said you may act funny. Speaking of the doctor I should probably go and get him.” He started to get up.   

    I squeezed his hand as hard as I could. “What doctor?  I sound funny? We were in the row boat and a storm came up.  Remember, you saved me?  I almost drowned.  Then there was this horrible animal chasing us.  Don’t you remember?!” My voice was desperate.

     Drew rubbed my hand between his. “Calm down it’s okay, everything will be okay.”

    “I don’t understand.  The last thing I remember is crashing through the floor of a castle.  Everything’s not okay!”  

    Drew kept rubbing my hand. “You must’ve been dreaming that from shock.  Yesterday we were taking a late night swim in the pool. For fun, we were tossing a basketball back and forth, you in the water and me out. Well one of the times I had tossed it over my shoulder without looking and I went inside to get a soda.” His voice grew husky. “A minute later, I came back. But you were nowhere in sight. I grew worried and started calling out your name. Then I saw something in the water…it was you.” Drew stopped, unable to go on.

    Wow. My hand grew limp in his. “What happened after that?”

    Drew cleared his throat and fought for control. “I rescued you, called 911 and you were taken to the hospital. You have been unconscious for what seems like forever and I was so afraid that you would die because of me.”

    No Drew. I squeezed his hand and looked him in the eye. “You can’t think like that Drew. It wasn’t your fault. Do you hear me?”      

    Drew nodded and wiped his eyes. “I have to get the doctor.” He released my hand and started to walk away.   

    “Wait, Drew?”

    “Uh huh what is it?”

    “Do you by any chance know what time it was after you had saved me?”

     Drew sighed. “Yeah, it was like 11:50 or something.”  

     Ten minutes before midnight?

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