Nature Abhors a Vacuum
hair streamed behind him as he sprinted through long, knee-high grass, his blue eyes
focused on the distant treeline with singular purpose.
He felt his strength flagging, but spurred himself on for one last burst of speed before
he crashed through the undergrowth and staggered to a halt, gasping for breath. Turning
to look behind him, Aiden grinned breathlessly at his pursuer, who had apparently been
unable to keep up with his breakneck speed.
"You owe me a copper jack, Pace!" the young man called out between breaths. "I
told you turning thirteen makes all the difference!"
His friend, Pacian, merely waved dismissively at him as he staggered to a halt,
probably not wanting to waste his breath by yelling across the twenty yards that remained
between them. It had been Pacian’s idea to ditch their chores in favour of something more
entertaining, for Aiden had turned thirteen this very day. Although not overly fond of
work, he didn't feel that running out on his family was an entirely honourable endeavour,
but his friend had been very persuasive.
Before long, they found themselves leaving the village of Coldstream, their home for
most of their lives, in the distance behind them. A few months younger than Aiden, the
two boys had been friends since they were little, a source of some concern to his parents,
as Pacian had a knack of getting into trouble and generally liked Aiden to be there when
"I let you win, since it's your birthday," Pacian shrugged, taking the time to tidy up
his short blond hair and absently brush non-existent dirt from his tunic. "If it was any
other day, I would have beaten the pants off of you."
Aiden laughed scornfully, knowing that Pacian's pride wouldn't permit him to admit
defeat, but he decided to play along with this little fiction to spare his feelings. His friend
was always good at making up plausible lies when pressed, something Aiden could never
"Anyway, I suppose we should get back now,” Aiden suggested. “If we stay away
much longer I'm going to be missed, and I don't want to get into trouble today."
"Okay," replied Pace hesitantly, "but I wanted to show you something first." Pacian
started walking into the forest, evaporating Aiden's light mood in an instant.
"But that's the Cairnwood," he protested, gazing with trepidation at the ominously
dark shadows in the thick forest. "We're not supposed to go in there."
"I don't see anything dangerous about trees, do you?" Pace asked as he looked
"Somehow I think there's something in there besides trees that might be dangerous,
"Such as?" his blond friend prompted. Aiden was at a loss. All his parents had ever
told him was that Cairnwood was a dangerous place, and sometimes people who went in
there never came out again. But he was never told anything specific, such as if they were
eaten by bears or ghosts, or possibly the dreaded Ghost Bear Pacian had once told him
"Look, we're only going in a little way," Pacian confided, "and all the times I’ve
been in there I've never seen anything that you could call dangerous."
"How how often have you gone into the forest?" Aiden asked, drawing a shrug from