Summary: Gray and Tan search for a missing child and find a tree instead.
NOTE: This is a very rough draft with no editing at all (per National Novel Wiriting Month rules) and is presented for amusement value only. Think of it as a periscope into my writing process rather than a coherent story!
There will most likely be spelling and grammatical errors afoot as well as flat out bad writing, info dumps, plot holes, contradictions/retcons, uneven characterization and pacing. These snippits are also posted out of order, so please refer to the Outline to figure out where it’s supposed to fit.
A Sharp Right at Apple
Victoria’s footprints ended at the base of the tree.
Gray circled the trunk again, checking the massive oak for any hint of where the missing child had gone next.
“She isn’t here.” The massive wolfhound-bloodhound cross that was Gray’s partner was already starting his search pattern again. “Leave it Gray.” The dog’s voicebox was emotionless, his feelings conveyed through his actions and postures, but she could tell Tan was annoyed by the rhythm of the words.
“She has to be.” Gray and Tan were the best search and rescue team the southern territories had and the only ones who had managed to pick up her trail on the other side of the river. Everything led here, to this tree, so the child had to be close.
She started to circle the trunk again and Tan growled in frustration, making his voicebox click and stutter in protest.
It wasn’t just the footsteps that made Gray positive the child was here. After the river the child’s wandering path had made a beeline for the tree, even over a half mile of thick forest.
But there was no damage to the bark indicating the tree had been climbed and no footprints leading away. It was as if the child had stopped in front of the tree and then just vanished.
And children don’t vanish— except for Victoria and the three other children before her. Gray was too late to help those three, but she was damned if Victoria was going to get away.
She stepped back, to get a better look at the whole trunk and nearly tripped over Tan who had moved up behind her.
“She’s not here.” He repeatedly, stubbornly. “I can’t find where she went, but she’s not here. Leave it, Gray.”
“Is this a false trail then?” She countered.
With a sigh Tan sat down to reprocess the data. After a moment he blinked and then gave her a grumpy look. “No.”
“Then there has to be something here that tells us where she went.”
“Maybe,” Tan hedged. ‘But I can’t see it or smell it and I don’t like this tree.”
Gray blinked. “You don’t like the tree?”
“There is something wrong with it, but I cannot measure it.” He licked his nose, “Two plus two is four, but it is the wrong four.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“So, there is something about the tree,” Gray narrowed her eyes thoughtfully.
“You’re the one who thinks that two plus two is apple,” Tan sniffed dismissively. “Make two plus two be tree.”
“Huh.” Gray stared at the tree for a moment and then reached out a hand and knocked.
On the third knock there was a deep low gong from within the tree that grew in volume until Gray was covering her ears in pain and Tan had fled to a safe distance.
As the tone finally faded away, a thin blue line carved its way from the base of the tree upwards in a smooth parabolic arc. Once the line reached the base of the tree again the blue line flared and the archway faded slowly into the entrance way of a darkened tunnel.