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Martin's seatbelt has just saved his life. While his fiancée lies dead inside the car, Martin staggers up a hillside to summon help. He stumbles on a recently purchased, oddly shaped box that has survived the accident and, acting on impulse, opens it for the first time, revealing an iridescent golden bubble. Tempted by the vision he sees inside, Martin enters a portal that transports him straight into a strange, new world.
Soon followed by Tony, Thom, and Aleks, who have all had similar bizarre experiences, Martin and his new friends have no idea they have been gifted with the Touch, an energy field power that everyone lives and breathes in their whimsical new home. Unbeknownst to the four, the Touch has the potential to create great things, but also has the power to destroy. When Martin, Tony, Thom and Aleks realize their new world is in jeopardy, they must not only learn how to use their power wisely, but also control it within themselves. Meanwhile, a Dark One waits in the shadows to annihilate everything.
In this engaging fantasy tale, four unlikely heroes must learn to manipulate their new powers in order to stop a war none of them wants to fight-before it is too late.
Read an Excerpt
THE TEMPLARS' RETURNBook One of Touched by Freia
By Doug Wilson
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Doug Wilson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Wrong Turn
The windshield cracked in a spiderweb pattern and then folded into the car. A branch, shoving its way in through the hole, cut a furrow across Martin's scalp before tearing a path through the headliner. He saw more than felt the wheel well as it pushed its way into the passenger foot space. He unwillingly clapped his hands straight out in front of him when the seatbelt jerked him to a stop.
He flopped back into the seat. He listened briefly to the utter silence, not thinking or feeling, just listening. Hours or seconds passed. He didn't know which. Then came that horrific crack. It smashed at his ears, causing ice picks of pain to shoot briefly through his temples. He felt his weight shift, first up and then back. Time sped up. He lost track of up and down amid the flapping arms, slapping twigs, creaks and crashes. The seatback gave way when he slammed back into it. It saved his life.
* * *
Lying with his head on his arms, facedown inside on the roof the car, Martin felt the button of his Pendleton shirt pressing into his cheek. Sticky with blood, the sleeve and button clung to his face momentarily as he raised his head. He turned slowly, afraid of what he might see.
He looked at the driver. He could make out only the back of Amy's head. He called her name, but she didn't move or acknowledge him. She was bent awkwardly between the seats. Her seatback pressed against the roof. Her hair was fanned out below her, draped in a pool of blood.
It took the pain in his legs quite some time to intrude, but when it finally got his attention, the throbbing was a steady, ever-present companion gleefully torturing him. He looked around inside the car.
The scene around him was like a surreal dream or a Dali painting, full of normal shapes that were bent and twisted in cruel and useless ways.
Shattered glass was everywhere, broken into the little cubes they show on television and sparkling in the morning sunlight. A pop can, overturned in a dark puddle of liquid, was lying by the dashboard. It was difficult to comprehend the interior of the little Honda. Some parts, like the backseat, were pristine, looking like they had yesterday. Others, like the passenger door, with its white foam stuffing exposed and broken plastic trim everywhere, looked more like an aborted space project than the car he knew so well. None of the windows had survived. The compression of the roof had crushed them as it closed each opening. He tested his elbow to make sure it would hold his weight, and then, reaching up, he unclasped his belt. He dropped to the roof, screaming as his legs shifted in the small space, and then curled into a ball and panted out the spasm of pain.
Martin didn't want to move, but he couldn't reach Amy from where he'd fallen. Every inch of movement sparked a cascade of screaming nerves, each testifying to the million abuses he'd suffered. Eventually the pain eased enough for him to try to move again. He stretched out toward Amy, hoping against hope she was all right. He could barely reach her. When he did, she was cold. He heard a sound, a distant sobbing. It reverberated through the small car. He realized it was the sound of his own voice. Tears poured down his face as he called her name again and again. He dragged himself closer to her. Her eyes were open.
He screamed. He cursed God and himself. He cursed her. After a while his screaming quieted into low moans. He lay there for a long time, holding her hand and crying.
At some point the pain in his legs clawed its way through his sorrow and reminded him that he was still in trouble. He decided in that moment that he didn't want to live without her. He would just lie there and die beside her. But the pain had other ideas. It tore at him, implacable and ceaseless. It washed over him in great waves that ripped all other thoughts from his mind.
Panting and lying very still helped him through the long waves of pain. Part of him felt like he deserved this agony for not dying with Amy when he had the chance.
But another part of him, one he wasn't proud of, wanted to live. It wanted to stop the throbbing in his legs and crawl out of this dead car and away from his dead fiancée and live, dammit!
And that part of him was getting stronger by the second. He struggled with it, feeling guilty and remorseful and hateful. But the part of him that wanted to live finally won out.
With some effort, and no small amount of misery, he hauled himself through a gap in the back passenger window that hadn't been completely pinched closed. The shards of glass jutting from the window frame tore at his clothes and skin but let him through. To extract his ruined legs he was reduced to hooking both hands under each knee and pulling them out one at a time. He lay on the ground near the rear window of the car for a while, gasping for breath while the pain in his legs once again kept his full attention.
He started to lie back on the ground, only to find that his first victimizer, the tree branch that had cut his face, had ended their mutual descent inside the back of his shirt.
For a few brief moments it had been his savior, holding the car up. Then it was his enemy, letting him fall. As a last insult, it bit him even after its death. When he reached back and pulled it over his head, it dug a new gouge across his shoulder blade before coming free. He threw it as far down the hill as he could manage. The movement sent a new spasm up from his legs through the rest of his body. When it passed, he came back to the present moment.
Digging his hands into the pine needles, rocks, and mud of the slope, he pulled himself away from the car a bit and looked back. It was a mess. The front passenger corner was gone, giving the impression that some huge beast had taken a bite out of it. A deep trench ran up that same side, buckling the front door and exposing the hinge.
Amy had frequently talked about how cute the tiny Honda was, with its shiny black paint and fancy alloy wheels. Now, with the two wheels that were still attached pointing up in the air and the roof caved in, it looked more like a squashed beetle than a car. Even the personalized license plate, AMYSTOY, was gone—ripped off by a stray branch, no doubt.
He turned his attention to the tree they had hit. It looked to have received nearly as much damage as the car. If it survived, the tree would be deeply scarred too. The near side of it had been nearly stripped of branches for the first twenty feet or so. Looking past it, he saw that it was the last thing between them and a hundred-foot drop.
He had no idea how to get back up the nearly vertical hillside to the road. He turned back to the car, hoping to see something that could help him. Shattered glass and twisted metal were of no use. The car's trunk was crushed closed. All four doors were smashed. Miraculously, Amy's bottle of strawberry-kiwi Snapple was lying, unbroken, in the pine needles next to the car. He scanned the area for the easiest route to the top. He was lying propped on an elbow, partway down a long, densely treed hillside. The road looked to be at least fifty feet up. Interstate 26. The weather had been dry as a bone. It was, after all, late May. But even in May the mountains get cold at night. He now realized the shadows had probably hidden black ice on the road.
As near as he could tell, they had shot off of the road at the sharp curve and slammed into the tree, up high but still below the middle of the trunk. The car had tumbled from the tree, crunching rear-first into the ground and flopping onto its back like a dying tortoise.
He looked up the slope again. Small scrub brush, some variation of holly with red-tipped leaves and red berries, dotted the hillside. Saplings with soft, flexible trunks and bright green needles grew in patches. The hillside was mostly semisoft dirt covered by pine needles. At random, large rocks thrust up through that carpet of needles. It was steep, but the ground was soft enough to dig his fingers into.
It seemed like the climb would be possible for a healthy, athletic man. But even uninjured, Martin had never been athletic. Now with his extra weight and twisted legs, he felt more like a grub than a person. While he was looking over the hillside and debating whether to crawl and die or lie there and die, a small, bright object caught his attention.
The box was tiny, no bigger than a gumball, and oddly shaped. It had eleven sides, no right angles and no openings. It had cost him a month's salary, but he'd had to have it. He didn't know what was so appealing about it any more than he could explain to Amy why he'd spent the money on it. But something about the box had demanded his attention. It tickled at his mind, whispering, "Pick me up. Buy me. Take me home." The old lady in the store hadn't had a clue what it was. Martin hadn't either, but he knew it was special.
He crawled over and picked it up, not realizing until much later that upon seeing it, he had decided to stay and die. He propped himself up against a rock that jutted out from the hillside and pondered the box. As he looked at it, it calmed him. He had spent many hours looking at the box and wondering where it had come from. Who had made it and how? It wasn't much to look at, neither attractive nor ugly. It was seamless and hard and obviously hollow.
Something shifted inside when he moved it suddenly. Martin fleetingly considered opening the trunk to see if he could get to the tools inside. But the thought of looking at Amy's face while he scrabbled for the keys was too much to bear. And he didn't think he could get the trunk open anyway.
He rubbed the box, unconsciously humming something tuneless and flat. Without thinking about it, he put it between his teeth and bit it hard: nothing. He dropped it from his mouth back into his hands and started stroking the sides with his fingers. While he was looking at the largest side and rubbing the sides above and below it, the box opened. He dropped it, sucking in a quick, sharp breath.
It had never opened before, and he was certain he had done the exact same thing on a number of occasions. The box landed on the ground and tumbled down the hillside a few feet before fetching up against a small sapling, open side directed at Martin. Starting as just a crack between two sides, the lid slowly lifted, revealing its hidden treasure. Completely filling the box was a bubble, golden and iridescent. It looked almost exactly like the soap bubbles he had blown as a kid. Colors swirled in a chaotic dance across the bubble's surface.
It took almost five minutes, but eventually the lid opened completely. The bubble grew. It plopped out of the box and hung suspended a couple of inches above the ground. It expanded rapidly: fist-sized, cantaloupe-sized, watermelon-sized. He was sure his eyes grew right along with the bubble.
He expected it to pop, but it didn't. It just kept getting bigger, hovering near the ground, never touching. That it didn't fly away, even in the stiff breeze, was something of a mystery as well. When it was slightly larger than man-sized, the bubble stopped growing.
It slowly floated toward him, against the wind. In a matter of moments it was within arm's reach. He could hear it. It made a rumble, not unlike a furnace. As he held his hands out to it, he could feel heat. Like an oven door, it wasn't hot on its own but gave evidence of immense heat below the surface. He tentatively poked a finger into it, as if it were the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Instead of giggling, it bent inward. He pulled his hand back, but the dent stayed. It grew. Slowly, the side nearest him melted into the sphere. When it touched the other side, a hole formed, creating a torus, looking more like a giant glistening donut than a ball. The hole widened. Soon it looked more like a hula-hoop than a donut.
Looking through the hoop, he expected to see a sloping hillside, more trees, and bits of wreckage; instead, he saw something completely different. Framed within the hoop was an image. It was a ranch house with a large, covered front porch. He could smell flowers and grass. He leaned closer to see more. As he did, the hoop moved closer too. Whenever he moved, the image seen through the hoop moved, as if he was looking through a window.
He shifted over to get a better look and lost traction on the hill. He started slipping down and bounced a shin against a tree, sending shards of pain through his leg. Hitting the tree slowed him but sent him spinning. He dropped his shoulder and rolled head down through the hoop. He landed in the fetal position on hard, rocky soil, bounced, rolled, slid a few feet, and fetched up against a hard stone step.
He screamed in agony. Fire raced up his legs. The world spun as a wave of dizziness washed over him. He thought he might throw up. He hoped he might die. Instead of doing either, he laid his head down on the spikey gravel, looked up at the roof of the covered porch, and struggled to stay conscious.
"Oh my, you're early," came a man's voice from somewhere above him. Footsteps drew near. A blurry face slid into his view. "And you're hurt too! Raneal, help me get him inside." Martin felt arms lifting him. He screamed as his legs were shifted. "Oh dear. This won't do at all," were the last words he heard for quite some time.
Tony Finds Some Friends
The sleek black RX7 glided slowly and silently to a stop. After a few minutes the door opened and a man stepped out. Six feet three inches tall, he was thin, muscular, and imposing. He wore brown, well-traveled and comfortable but not ready to retire cowboy boots, peg-leg Levi's, a red and blue Pendleton shirt, and a black leather jacket. Reaching into the car he pulled a black cowboy hat from the passenger seat and arranged it on his head, covering his short- cropped red hair. He walked to the back of the car. His walk was distinct: heel-first impacts that snapped on the bizarre metallic roadway. Opening the hatch, he grabbed a duffel bag and threw it back over his shoulder. He slammed the hatch, checked that the doors were locked, and strode off down the road, reliving the events of the past hour.
His sports car hummed along, not minding the blistering pace at all. It had been gobbling nearly two miles a minute and seemed hungry for more.
Unfortunately, even at a hundred miles an hour the Mojave Desert takes forever to cross. The desert was just the first leg of a sixteen-hour trip, and already he'd been a victim of his creeping enemy. He'd passed the time by daydreaming about his latest Runequest game design and listening to Robert Plant wail out "Black Dog," "Misty Mountain Hop," and "Stairway to Heaven."
Tony caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye. It was ball of light three inches across and filled with a squiggle of black ink that twisted, curled, and squirmed inside the ball. As it passed the side window and became visible through the windshield, the ball of light popped, releasing the squiggle, which sprang out into a large hoop, flying vertically in front of the car.
He slammed on the brakes. As the car dived he clenched the steering wheel in a death grip. The car had excellent brakes and bled speed rapidly. They dragged the car from a hundred miles an hour to a complete stop in fewer than three hundred feet. It was not quick enough. Just as Tony pounded on the brakes, the hoop stopped. The car was still traveling at more than ninety miles per hour when it passed through.
The change in road surface was immediately obvious. Normally his RX7 provided nearly perfect tactile feedback of the road. Suddenly, at the worst possible time, all sensation through the steering wheel was gone. With intense concentration and skill, Tony kept the tiny car from locking the wheels, but just barely. As the car slowed he searched for the feedback he should be feeling but couldn't find it. There was almost no resistance to turning. He managed to keep the car traveling in a straight line, and within a few seconds it came to a rest, settling back on its shocks.
Tony took a few seconds to let his heart slow down again. Then he got out of the car. He was greeted with a waft of tire rubber and brakes. And his first feel of the road. It was perfectly smooth, like cut marble, but it was resilient, like extremely hard rubber. Thankfully it wasn't slick or his hard braking would have ended very differently.
Where featureless, brown Mojave Desert horizon had existed moments before, a mountain range now stood. He slowly turned in a complete circle, seeing a new land for the first time. Low hills dominated the horizon on all sides. The ground around him was flat to the foothills, forming a large plain covered with low, brown grass. It reminded him of the Salt Lake Basin, but not as large and with more trees. They were scattered around the plain but began in earnest in the foothills. Those on the flat looked deciduous, but in the foothills he could make out evergreens. He noticed a herd of animals some distance away. They were the color of the grass, and had horns similar to an antelope. As he'd looked at them, he knew somehow they were "wrong". Their horns were long, twisted spikes. North American antelopes had short, curved prongs for horns.
Excerpted from THE TEMPLARS' RETURN by Doug Wilson Copyright © 2012 by Doug Wilson. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsA Wrong Turn....................1
Tony Finds Some Friends....................7
Thom Lays Low....................34
A Long Walk....................125
Winds of Change....................142
The Road Less Traveled....................158