I started with the second book of the series, Long-Lost Brother, and although I enjoyed it, I felt I was missing something by not starting at the beginning. I recommend the book, but further recommend you read the series in order. Sean is a powerful protagonist who has a need for redemption in rescuing the brother he once abandoned. You feel his pain as his younger brother Erren’s body rejects the food of this world, and Erren spirals toward starvation. If that weren’t hard enough, Erren’s father also rejects the boy because Erren’s mother died while giving birth to him. Because of Erren’s telepathy, he, unfortunately, knows exactly what his father is thinking. You just want to give Erren a hug and tell him everything would be all right, then turn and smack his father across the face. I thought the book was a bit wordy and could stand to be condensed, and the poems between chapters didn’t do much for me, but overall, it’s an enjoyable read. I rate it 4 stars.
BENEATH THE SURFACE: THE LOST BOY (VOLUME 1)
In Beneath the Surface: The Lost Boy, an unusual boy is born on a spaceship bound for the planet Midgard, but his very birth brings sorrow to his family. Out of grief for the death of their mother, Sean Archer blames and abandons his baby brother in the forest by an old oak tree. He goes away hunting, never realizing the full consequences of his heartless act. The mysterious Queen of the Forest finds the sad, abandoned child and comforts him. She notices he is able to see her subjects, the elementals (fairies) of her forest, and feels connected to him. While she holds the child in her arms, she gazes into his future, but upon witnessing visions of horrific events, she decides to steal him away into the Otherworld to protect him. When Sean returns and finds Erren gone, guilt strikes him down and he becomes repentant. He sees his mother’s spirit and she tells him, “The forest took him.” Sean begins his noble quest to find his lost brother, to right the wrong he had done, unaware his search is awakening his latent telepathic gift. Inevitably, he comes to realize the longer he hunts, the more he doubts his sanity. The forest becomes haunted and there is a battle of wills as the mystical Queen Elaya tries to stop him from taking her little boy.
BENEATH THE SURFACE: THE LOST BOY (VOLUME 1)
EXERPT FROM CHAPTER 3: SPIRITED AWAY
Sean dragged his baby brother through the majestic woods, where sweet birdsong questioned the complaints that interrupted their peaceful world. Sean did not appreciate the sylvan beauty all around him. In Titan, he had wistfully daydreamt about what Midgard would be like, but now he was here, he did not care. When he had set foot on his home planet two years ago and had left the spaceport, he saw snow for the first time, but he had not looked upon his new environment with wonder, as any normal child would. He had barely noticed anything. Shock had blinded him. In fact, he barely remembered anything at all that had happened during the first few months after his arrival. His memories of that time were all a blur.
Inside the Mississauga Forest, Sean was not thinking about brotherhood. He had not learned how important it was from the racist Titans who had forgotten the ideal for which humanity had originally built their space station. Living in Titan had made Sean bitter, but after the tragedy, he felt even worse! Right now, he was not thinking about brotherhood at all!
With no one to hear him in these beautiful woods except a toddler who would not understand him anyway, Sean cared less and less about repressing his anger. It bubbled to the surface in ever-increasing intensity as he cursed just like his father while grumbling to the unfair world, “This is my hunting day, for Christ’s sake! This is supposed to be my time alone! Why couldn’t Da take care of you?! He’s always running away and dumping you on me! I don’t want you to drag me down, goddammit! This is bloody unbelievable! This is just goddamned unbelievable! How am I going to run around hunting with your stubby little legs?!”
Erren looked up to Sean in many ways, but his eyes creased with the worry he felt about Sean’s tirade. He had never heard his brother so angry before. He was almost as angry as Da often was and that made Erren afraid the red would soon come. He tried his best to keep up with his big brother and not complain, but Sean pulled him a little too fast and despite Erren’s best efforts, he tripped a couple of times on the uneven forest floor and got his bare knees all dirty. This made Sean’s irritability even worse and he sounded more and more like his father as he criticized, “Oh for God’s sake, Erren! Keep up! Come on!”
Erren was trying to do just that! He was trying so hard to please his big brother, but he was so small!
The muddy trail ended when they came to a grand English oak tree called the Old Man Oak, whose buds had opened into small, growing leaves. At this tree, about a kilometre deep into the forest, Sean pulled his brother to where he wanted him to be and pushed him down between two thick roots of the oak on the west side where the ground was dry. He noticed one of Erren’s shoes was missing. Bending over his little brother, he demanded angrily, “Where’s your bloody shoe?!” As he looked at the muddy foot that remained, he added, “Where’s your goddamned sock?!”
Erren looked up at Sean with growing anxiety. He truly loved his older brother and it pained him when Sean spoke to him so harshly. He wished he had not lost his shoe and sock. He wished Sean were not angry with him again. In fact, Sean had not stopped being angry with him since they left the house. In answer to Sean’s questions, Erren quietly and timidly pointed back the way they had come.
“DAMN IT, ERREN!” shouted Sean with his fists clenched as if his voice could give the punch he felt like giving. He no longer cared about repressing his anger for fear of making Erren cry. He had reached his limit and was now bursting out emotionally. Deep in the forest, no one was around to stop him from being mean to his little brother.
Erren flinched, covering his face protectively. Red had appeared in Sean’s aura and had exploded at him like shrapnel with those angry words, hitting not just Erren, but the unfair world around him. Erren felt emotionally hurt by the verbal attack and his own aura exploded in response, but with livid grey C shapes flying outwards, indicating his sudden fright.
Sean’s red and Erren’s grey shapes were thought-forms on the mental plane of existence. They were visual representations of the boys’ own thoughts as influenced by their emotional state and lasted only briefly. Thought-forms happen all the time, but few can see them. Erren saw his brother’s thought-forms, but Sean could not see Erren’s. Usually, Erren preferred his calm, older brother to his quick-tempered father, but the intensity of Sean’s angry outburst surprised him so much that he found himself wishing his da were here.
Sean straightened up and looked back along the trail. When Erren looked back at his brother with widened eyes, he lowered his hands timorously, but covered his chest defensively. He dared not make a sound. He did not cry yet; he was too shocked that such an angry outburst had come from his big brother!
Through Erren’s eyes, you could see Sean’s aura was in two main layers. Although, in Sean’s particular case, the inner aura of the body had two layers of its own, being tan closest to the body with blue surrounding it. The outer aura of the spirit was a violet glow around that. This was the normal appearance of his aura. His present emotional state, however, was producing a fearsome slash of vivid red seemingly cutting up diagonally through his heart and rising to swirl around his throat from the pain in his wounded heart that caused him to speak so angrily. His antagonistic attitude towards his brother made the edges of his aura jagged.
Sean was oblivious to such things as auras and had no idea his brother could see them. He had no idea his brother had become afraid of the red that sometimes appeared in his father’s aura and now his own. All Sean was thinking about was the damned shoe and sock were probably stuck in the mud somewhere back along the trail. “Oh Goddammit!” he vociferated just like his father, but without the Irish accent. He decided he would look for them on the way back. For now, Sean pointed to Erren’s position sternly while he told his brother as one would command a dog, but without the affection, “Stay right there, Erren! STAY!”
Erren froze where he sat, like a little mouse hidden in the grass, fearing a nearby predator. Sean had never been this angry before. It made him afraid, adding pale grey to his aura in the form of a little cloud above his head. He had always thought Sean had loved him more than his da did. He had always been more gentle and patient, but now he witnessed a different Sean. This was the part of Sean that hid beneath the surface and now rose up full of anger, impatience, and resentment.
Erren’s eyes began to water.
Sean turned to leave, still clenching his fists, but tempted by the isolation of the forest and haunted as much by his mother’s painful and bloody death as his father was, he looked back at his sad and scared little brother and shouted a most unkind and terrible thing, “IF IT WEREN’T FOR YOU, MA WOULD STILL BE ALIVE!”
Once said, Sean turned his back on his kid brother and ran away southward, fighting back tears. He did not care if his anger made Erren cry this time. He would not be there to hear it! He ran off like his father and left Erren all alone in the untamed woods after finally voicing what both he and his father had been secretly thinking for the past two years.
When Sean had shouted those harmful words, Erren gasped and flinched again, putting his hands up to protect his face against the explosive red thought-forms of anger: all the shrapnel shapes Sean unknowingly shot like arrows at his little brother more exclusively this time. Erren did not comprehend all his brother’s parting words, but he understood the emotion behind them, biting him deeper and hurting him more. As he was besieged, Erren had the horrible realization that his father’s and his brother’s anger were a punishment, not just for the little things he had done, but for something terrible he had done. Even when they did not direct their anger towards him, he was somehow responsible. He was to blame for all of it.
He was to blame.
Erren felt burdened with a heavy guilt he was too young to bear or understand. He had no concept of what “alive” meant, for to understand that, he would have to understand what “death” meant and he had no concept of that, either. Since his father and brother almost never talked about her and since he had never even seen her, he also did not understand who “Ma” was. He did not know what he had done wrong, but he knew it must have been something very, very bad.
As Sean stormed off, Erren’s eyes followed him through a blur of tears, wishing his big brother would not leave him all alone. As he drew shaky breaths, he wiped his eyes with trembling hands so he could clearly see his brother return. He needed Sean to come back and say everything was all right now. He needed Sean to come back and not be angry with him anymore; but more than anything else in the world, he needed Sean to come back and love him again.
Erren hardly breathed as he watched his big brother run farther and farther south through the trees. When his tears blurred his eyes again, he wiped them away only to see his brother was gone. Erren’s chin trembled. In the aftermath of Sean’s angry words, the forest was too quiet. The birds did not sing and the wind did not rustle the budding leaves. Erren had thought his brother loved him, but when Sean left, he took love with him, leaving behind a hole now flooded with shock and despair. The shaky sobs of a broken-hearted child seemed swallowed up by the vastness of the forest as Erren pathetically continued to stare at the place he had last seen his big brother, hoping he would reappear …
… but the forest hid Sean from sight, leaving behind an emotionally wounded little boy at the foot of the old oak tree.
BENEATH THE SURFACE: LONG-LOST BROTHER (VOLUME 2)
In Long-Lost Brother, Sean’s telepathy fully awakens when he finds the lost boy. He discovers that his brother had been living in a mystic palace beneath the surface of the forest. Unfortunately, when Sean brings Erren home, he finds an ancient fairy tale proves to be true: once a human has eaten the foods of the Otherworld, he can never eat the foods of the outer world ever again. To complicate matters, unresolved family problems worsen the issue. Sean’s father never came to terms with the death of his wife during childbirth and can give his youngest son no love; instead, he drowns his sorrows in alcohol. Five years ago, Sean blamed Erren for his mother’s death and did not seem to care whether his brother lived or died. Now Sean fears that the life of the little boy he has come to love is slipping perilously out of his hands and he is desperate to find a solution before his kid brother starves to death in a land of plenty.
BENEATH THE SURFACE: LONG-LOST BROTHER (VOLUME 2)
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 1: LOKISDAY (MONDAY)
Midgard had no moon, so Moonday, Monday, was no more. The French no longer called it Lundi for the same reason. The settlers named the day, Lokisday, after the planet nearest the sun, Loki. Little did Sean know that Lokisday was going to be his lucky day.
After midnight on this day, the thirteenth of Twelfthmonth, a lone grey wolf loped purposefully through the forest in the moonless darkness of the Midgard night. Her breath frosted in the air as she ran through the woods. After travelling a long way, she exited the forest, ran down a hill, and passed through the transparent blue forcefield barrier like a ghost. She crossed a snowy field that many sheep had trampled on and made dirty, yet she unnaturally ignored the sheep, all of which fled the intruder, baaing as they went. The wolf passed through the next forcefield fence and slowed her pace until she stopped beneath Sean’s east-facing bedroom window on the left side of the back of the house. The wolf uttered a short howl and waited for a response from inside. When nothing happened, she tried again.
Sean was fast asleep in bed after a very emotional day. He had a spiritual crisis in the heart of the Mississauga Forest on Sunday morning and almost lost all hope of ever finding his missing brother. In the Haunted Clearing, he had become dangerously depressed and had wanted to die at the base of the Grandmother Oak, where once he had found a tiny bare footprint that may or may not have belonged to his little brother.
Spiritually and physically exhausted, the sixteen-year-old slept deeply that night. He lay on his right side, facing his east window and the forest beyond the forcefield fences that surrounded the farm. His mind was always on his brother and on the forest that had taken him. He had many dreams about that forest, but almost three hours after midnight, he had the strangest dream yet:
Sean was in the Haunted Clearing, an eerie place where nothing grew within the ring of tall, straight sentinel trees save the snow-covered Grandmother Oak, who spread out her branches in the very centre. He could hear wolves howling all around, setting the surreal stage. A beautiful, mystical woman caught his eye as she appeared beside the old oak tree. Where she came from, he did not know. A silver tiara held back her long, white-blonde hair. She wore a sparkling white gown with a silver belt that hung down in front. She seemed young, yet motherly at the same time. She held her back straight and stately as a queen, commanding respect, yet full of love. Her body seemed otherworldly phosphorescent and a violet glow expanded about two metres all around her. She seemed like an angel, but when he looked at her, he did not think of Heaven; he thought of fresh white snow covering the forest in winter.
This ethereal beauty held out her hand to him, beckoning in a regal manner. ‘Come,’ she thought to him without moving her lips, adding more to the mysticism of the moment. Sean did not know that in this single word, the Queen of the Forest erased the negative effects of her secret Appeals to drive him out of her forest and stop his quest to find his lost brother.
Sean walked unsurely towards this tall, stately woman and stood before her, barefoot in the snow, wearing beige pyjamas displaying scenes of stags in majestic poses. He instinctively bowed out of respect. Once he looked up and beheld her unusual violet eyes, she smiled serenely. She reached out a graceful hand to touch her right index finger to the centre of his forehead and made him see a brilliant flash of white light as bright as the sun!
Sean awoke suddenly with a gasp as his body jolted as if it had been shocked. He turned over and sat up, startled at first to find not light, but only darkness inside his room. He remembered the dream vividly and wondered what it meant.
Before he could think further on the matter, he heard something outside. He got out of bed and fumbled around in the dark to press a button on the wall to raise the blind on his east window. He leaned over his desk to look outside. The transparent blue sheets of light of the forcefield fences were all that illuminated the dark world.
He heard it again: a furtive howl. He climbed onto his desk, kneeling, and opened his window, letting in the cold air. He leaned out and looked down. To his amazement, he saw a wolf!
“Oh my God! A wolf! Holy Christ! The sheep! One of the pylons must be down!” His heart raced as he did a quick visual search of the forcefield barriers from his perch, worrying that a whole pack might have gotten in, yet he could not see any voids in the fences; at least, he saw none from his limited vantage point. The sheep yard behind the backyard was still intact, but beyond that, he did not know. He would have to wake up his da and have him check the whole grid on his computer to see which pylons were down and scan for other predators. Going out to shoot this seemingly lone wolf might be dangerous if it had come with its pack.
Sean thought it might also be possible that the wolf had gotten through the piled rock barrier on the outside of the farm fence and had dug underneath the forcefield. If that were the case, it must also have dug underneath the forcefield that surrounded the grounds of the farmhouse. He had to wake up his da!
Sean backed up to close the window …
The wolf uttered a short howl at him, standing on her hind legs briefly, as if she wished to jump up to reach him. He leaned out again. She had his full attention. The wolf was staring up at him and he found he could not tear his gaze away from it. They looked right at each other. Yellow eyes, which seemed greener from the surrounding blue light, gazed into his hazel ones. He stared for some time and all the wolf did was sit down on the flat, snow-covered patio stones expectantly.
“That is really odd,” he said to himself in puzzlement, rubbing his hairless chin absently. “Why is it here and not attacking one of the sheep? Or has it already?”
Sean got off his desk and, after retrieving a flashlight from a drawer in his bedside table, he climbed back onto his desk and leaned out the window. He shone the light down on the wolf for a better look. The animals of the Mississauga Forest were familiar to the young hunter, so he knew from the narrower shape of the forehead, smaller muzzle, and less massive shoulders, that this wolf was a female, but why she sat there, he did not know. He saw no blood on her muzzle, so she had not made a major kill recently and did not appear to be in a hurry to do so.
The she-wolf curiously did not run away from his light, though she clearly did not like it shining in her eyes. She blinked and sneezed her displeasure.
“This wolf is not acting the way a wolf should.” Sean did not know how she got in, but she ignored the sheep in the yard right behind her. Instead, she sat there staring up at him! “Why is she –?”
The she-wolf got to her feet and uttered an impatient howl, facing him exclusively, as if her intent were to communicate directly to him. Sean’s eyebrows rose! He had never seen a wolf act like this before. She absolutely mystified him!
“What the hell?” Sean saw something in the beam of his flashlight that he almost missed. The grey-coloured wolf had something hanging from her neck. He saw a grey object against the white fur of her throat.
“Oh my God!” His eyes went wide. “No! It can’t be!”
The wolf was wearing an entrance key.
Sean changed clothes in a flurry of motion and ran down the stairs as furtively as the impatient young man could possibly go. By the front door, he put on his boots and dark brown leather jacket. His Golden Labrador Retriever did not come to see him off this time. His loveable pet slept soundly in his bed box behind the stairs. “Some guard dog you are,” Sean whispered, which was not fair, because his father had never intended for Halifax to be one.
Sean took out his d-rifle from its cabinet beside the door and slung it over his left shoulder for an easy right-handed draw. His Hunter’s Education Course instructor trained him to use his Gwynn 10 mm the same way the Fleet Army used their Greenfields. He shoved his gloves on and jammed his close-fitting, dark brown woollen toque on his head. He raced out the front door and ran around the south side of the house to the backyard where he saw the wolf last.
He found her still beneath his window, as if waiting for him.
In an instant, Sean had his weapon in both hands and aimed along the sights of his deadly disintegrator rifle, but he had no intention to shoot this mystery. He turned on the light attached to the bottom of the barrel of his Gwynn to see the entrance key around her neck more clearly. “Who put that there, girl?” he asked without expecting a reply. ‘If only she could talk,’ he thought.
The wolf did not like having the light shining in her eyes. She turned away, loped off across the backyard, and ran into the sheep yard, passing easily through the backyard forcefield fence. Her presence disturbed the sheep and they fled in the opposite direction, baaing in protest, but the wolf did not go near them. She merely ran out the sheep yard, able to pass through the outer farm fence with her entrance key.
Sean raced after the wolf. He ran through the sheep yard and leapt trustingly through the second forcefield to clear the rocks piled up on the other side that prevented predators from digging underneath the fence. He wondered about that entrance key! Only Sean’s father, Colin Archer, could program the keys to allow entry into his farm. Only the Archers and the Fosters across the street had access to such keys and only one of them was missing.
That key went missing five years ago when two-year-old Erren was lost in the forest. Colin never deleted its authorization, hoping Erren would somehow find his way back home.
“How the hell did that wolf get that key?!” wondered Sean as he ran.
Sean pursued the wolf with zeal up the hill and into the great Mississauga Forest with his d-rifle’s flashlight the only light in the blackness. He thought about how unwelcome the forest had seemed the past year. Recently, it had seemed as if the forest had spoken to him, telling him to, ‘Go home,’ and, ‘Leave,’ making him think his sanity was becoming as lost as his brother, but crazy or not, this time the wolf seemed to be an open invitation!
Sean ran like hell until he found it hard to catch his breath, yet the wolf kept going. “Wait!” he cried, huffing and puffing.
The wolf did not respond.
The young man was strong from many long hikes and he had run quite a distance, but he had pushed himself beyond his limits. His legs and lungs were burning, but even though he tried to force himself to go farther, he eventually just collapsed in the snow. The wolf did not wait for him and disappeared out of sight.
Sean was exhausted. “Damn it!” he exclaimed breathlessly, pounding his fist in the snow. Wolves had the endurance to outrun the fittest human.
As Sean rested his forehead on one arm while he regained his strength, he realized with apprehension that the black forest surrounded him in the dead of night as he chased after what might be a ghost. Maybe he had cracked. Maybe this was his final breakdown. He had been searching for Erren for five years and now he chased after what could not be. Perhaps the gods were mocking him. Maybe they will send the White Bird of Death for him this night.
About to cry in despair again, as he did yesterday when he lost all hope, he instead pounded his fist in the snow and angrily forced it down. “No!” he said and pushed himself to his feet. He pointed his d-rifle down to shine the flashlight on the snow to look for the wolf’s tracks. They were there. They were real. He followed them at his own pace, confident in his tracking abilities.
He slung his d-rifle over his left shoulder and took out his pocket tracker. On its screen, the rectangular device indicated the wolf as a blinking dot, flashing white and red alternately because the white indicated the entrance key and the red warned of the predator. It was getting farther and farther ahead. Using his right index finger, which his glove did not cover, Sean touched the screen of his tracker where the dot was to zoom in on it. He had to press twice before the tracker zoomed in enough to display the identifier within the entrance key the she-wolf was wearing.
The full-screen readout showed: Erren Tristan Archer, 1903 Longview Road, Oakville, Ontario …
Sean did not need to know the rest. That confirmed the wolf wore the missing key. What remained of the dark depression that had almost drowned him yesterday was gone in that instant. His purpose and hope were completely renewed. His weary spirit brightened up. In fact, he felt energized!
“Oh my dear God!” said Sean, shoving the tracker back in his pocket and marching on with d-rifle in hand. That settled it! “I am going to track you down until the end of the world or I’ll die trying! I swear to God in Heaven! You are not getting away from me, wolf! I’ve hunted down bigger game than you!”