The Search for Artemis - By P. D. Griffith



Landon Wicker scurried down the fire escape. Orange flecks of rust covered his bloodstained hands. Stumbling from rung to rung, he couldn’t get to the ground fast enough. His heart was racing; he felt lightheaded.

Then, in his haste to get away, his foot slipped off the ladder, causing him to clutch the crusty metal. Pressed against the steel, Landon shut his eyes and took a labored gulp as he fought to get past the nerve-wracking sensation of falling that briefly washed through his body.

As he paused to right himself, he heard the sound of the cell phone he’d dropped break into a million pieces on the asphalt below. He took a quick look back up the fire escape before continuing down. He could see the light from his bedroom as it shone out the window and cast a pale glow over the dark alley. Landon’s mind was still spinning from what had happened, and he couldn’t understand if he was making the right choice. What if he was wrong? What if he was overreacting? How could they blame him for what happened?

There was no time for second-guessing—he needed to get away. Whoever it was at the door had probably forced their way into the apartment by now and discovered the catastrophe waiting inside. To make it worse, Landon was clueless to what had happened; he just woke up, and the place was a disaster.

Unnerved and frightened, Landon clambered down the steel rungs of the fire escape and jumped to the ground, the remnants of his cell phone crunching under his tennis shoes. The impact of the hard asphalt caused him to stumble, but once he regained his footing, he stood up and pulled the strap of his duffle bag onto his shoulder.

Landon was running away from home—from what he might have done. He was running from an intuition that he was to blame for the crime. He was running, literally, as fast as he could. He was sprinting down the alley, not stopping to look back.

• • • • •

Five hours earlier.

Landon lay on his bed with a sticky film of sweat forcing the exposed parts of his body to cling to the sheets. The heat wave had been unrelenting for more than two weeks, and according to the weatherman, there was no end in sight. Even the sun setting didn’t seem to squelch the heat. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful sunset; the deep golden hues and vibrant pinks crept through Landon’s window, casting an orange glow on his unlit bedroom.

The sweat that soaked his body penetrated the sheets, creating a watery outline that looked morbidly like the chalk at a crime scene. He hadn’t moved for hours. It wasn’t that he couldn’t, but the heat was so oppressive that the mere idea of moving was exhausting. He stared at the fan as it rotated on the ceiling, trying to keep up with the spinning blades as they whirled around and around—lost in his own world.

That was why he didn’t hear his mother knocking on his bedroom door, see the shadow as it opened, or notice she’d walked in. She stepped over to his bed and gently touched his arm.

“Whoa, Mom . . . I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Well, I knocked, so you know.” She spoke calmly but sternly. “Anyways, dinner is ready. Get out of your bed and come to the table. Tonight we’re having stroganoff.”

Landon flung his legs off the side of his bed, but for a few moments that was the extent of his ability to move. He stayed that way, awkwardly contorted, until it started to get uncomfortable, and then he forced himself to sit up on the edge of the bed. His movements were lazy. He looked like a rag doll: his head resting on his shoulder, his shoulders slumped, and his arms dangling from his sides. Finally, after contemplating whether dinner was worth the effort, Landon stood up and followed his mother out to the dinner table.

His entire life they had lived in the same small two-bedroom apartment. It was one of those city apartments that cost way too much for the size, but he was lucky—he had his own room. His mother and father slept in the bedroom at the other end of the apartment, and between them was a small living space with barely enough room for a couch, a TV stand, and a dining area with a kitchen along the back wall.

Books consumed the place. His mother, an avid reader,