Sacrifice

The very short first chapter of the completed novel Sacrifice.

In autumn I returned to Founders School, and took the path to the mill again. It begins at the end of the farthest playing fields, where a low fence now  bars the trailhead and blocks the forest edge. I walked the barrier’s length in the cool sunlight and turned at the end. A discrete wooden sign beside a white birch informs students not to leave school grounds without permission. I’d not been a Founders student for forty years, but I looked back to see if anyone watched. Behind me I saw the school’s bright buildings standing serenely on their hilltop, reminding me and everyone who saw them that they would outlast us, so go ahead with your foolishness. Then I disappeared into the trees. A mile into the forest the path brought me to the bank of Chitowick Creek, and with the water low I made my way across the field of broken stone. The restored mill building stood just downstream. I stepped onto the raised wooden walkway that hugs the building’s perimeter and followed it to a small landing overlooking the spillway. This is where Hector died. They’d found him in early morning on the hard ice at the base of the mill wheel, his neck broken. I watched yellow leaves circulate in an eddy between the silent wheel and the mill’s stone foundation.

I went back along the walkway and tried the door to the mill house, but it was locked with a deadbolt. I remembered Lew bringing a stone down hard on a temporary padlock. In the summer before my final year at Founders, a surprise onslaught of renovation had resulted in piles of lumber stacked in the mill’s clearing and deep ruts in the long-neglected road through the trees. The mill had always been our private sanctuary in the midst of endless forest. It had stood in ruin forever. We’d had it to ourselves for one final winter.

I wandered upstream again. The leaves were past full color but still seductive. At the rock field I crossed the creek again and hiked back through the forest. They had searched for the girl from town along this path and in the woods. Her belongings had been scattered around Hector’s body. The search persisted off and on throughout the winter and spring, but they couldn’t find her. I helped to make it so.

At the top of the hill the fields opened again in the New Hampshire sunlight. The birch trees at the forest edge blazed white. Boys, and girls now, were streaming toward the open places for the afternoon’s sports. They ran and laughed and mocked each other, royalty in this small world, just like we had been. I wished them better luck than ours.