- Maria Catalina Higuera
“Somehow, I survived my first week of school.” I thought as I sat outside with Daenerys and a few of the other theatre kids. Practice had just finished and a lot of them were still waiting to be picked up. Dad told me He would be a few minutes late so that I wouldn't worry about him being late. Sara had left almost as soon as practice was finished, a white jeep wrangler had picked her up. At least she waved to me before leaving.
Despite my best efforts to be distrustful of Sara I just couldn't muster the energy for it, which was unfair since I was so quick to be weary of Daenerys despite her being a lot friendlier towards me. I turned to look at her, sitting on the concrete steps in front of the school just a foot away from me. “Hey Dan?”, I began, using her nickname “Can I ask you something?”.
She looked up from her phone where she had been shuffling through music, one earbud on. “Sure Asher '', she said in her usual cheery tone, “What up?” “Um… this may come out sounding wrong”, I began, fidgeting nervously, “But why… why did you befriend me? that first day in school why did you help me out?... I mean thank you so much for it but...why?”. It had been a question that had plagued me from the moment I receive that strange warning, why had Daenerys been so willing to help me? She could have just passed by me that day in the hallway, or just showed me my first classroom but she had gone out of her way to guide me around the school, which I found strange, or maybe she was a much nicer person than I.
Her expression turned more serious, almost sad, “You… well you just remind me of him”. She said, looking away from me and to somewhere far away.’’ “My older brother I mean…”, she added, “He passed away two years ago… car accident, my mom was driving him to the mall and well... an eighteen-wheeler ran into them, neither survived”. I stood perfectly still in stunned silence, unable to come up with an even close to an appropriate response to what she had just said.
She smiled sadly, “He was a lot like you, really quiet and shy, I remember he would cry every first day of primary school, despite me being two years younger than him I would always console him and help him find his classroom… when I saw you that day in the hallway with that terrified expression you just reminded me so much of him… It just felt like I was helping him when I helped you…”, she said, looking back at me, “I'm sorry if you think that's weird”.
I shook my head vigorously, “No, no it's fine... .I’m really sorry for what happened”, I said. “It's alright really… I'm really grateful for your help… and your friendship, I don't mind at all”. She smiled again but this time I could see that she had taken off a mask, leaving herself open for me to see just the hurt and pain she hid under her humor and laughter. It reminded me of Jake and how he also wore a mask, that of a happy-go-lucky boy who didn’t care much about anything but was truly working himself to the bone, chasing a dream that wasn’t even his own and I began to realize something...
I had thought I was the only one hiding who I was, the only one with serious worries but now I began to see that everybody more or less was wearing a mask to hide what they were really going through in private, what pain they bore on the inside and suddenly none of the kids around me looked the same, I wondered what they had suffered, what made them happy, what made them sad, how they coped with life and everything it threw at them.
“Thank you Asher”, she said softly after a while, “You are a good friend”.
I wasn't sure how to respond to that but I noticed she had scooted closer as we talked, “Um… You want a hug?”, I asked, the only thing I could think to say. She chuckled, “You really are just like him”, she said, leaning in and allowing me to put my arms around her shoulders awkwardly. That was the first time I had hugged anybody apart from my dad, and unlike him, she was really small and her hair smelled of strawberries and ginger, quite a strange combination.
As I held her in my arms all my doubts about her began to fade, it was hard for them not to with the story she had told me, and I believed her, not even because I could monitor her heartbeat to detect lies, because even if I couldn't I would still have believed her just because of the sincerity in her eyes, that genuine hurt; but mainly it was because I realized I trusted her, completely and utterly. “Thank you”, she said, letting go of me after a while as an autumn wind picked up a few stray leaves and blew them across the sidewalk.
I smile softly, “No, thank you”.
I bit my tongue to stop myself from screaming as I slammed against the wall with such strength the concrete shattered, and I felt that my shoulder was dislocated. “Get up”, My dad said, standing at the other end of the basement like an executioner awaiting his victim. Shakily, I tried to get to my feet, using the wall as support, “My shoulder…”, I said in between trying to catch my breath. “Put it back in, you know how to do it”, he answered gruffly. I gritted my teeth, fully aware of how much this was going to hurt as I grabbed my wrist and pulled until the bone popped back into place.
Dad was still waiting for me, standing on his end of the floor. He got into a fighting position as soon as I was done fixing my shoulder. Immediately I followed suit, not wanting to get thrown against the wall like a rag doll again. This time I tried something different, I charged at him instead of waiting for him to make the first move jumping to try and land a kick on his head. He was almost half a foot taller than me, standing at around six feet, he also was heavier with more muscle mass making him harder to move, but at least I was faster.
My heel connected with his jaw, making him stumble back slightly. I tried to use my momentum and weight to push him to the floor but it wasn’t enough, and he had predicted it. He grabbed my foot and slammed me against the hard floor, knocking the air out of me. I saw black spots in my vision as I tried to catch my breath again, but he wasn’t about to let me get the chance. He tried to put me in a chokehold but I had also learned his tricks. Using all my strength, I punched him in the sternum and sent him back a few feet.
Not wasting any time I got back to my feet with a kick up just in time to block a punch, and another and another. He was trying to overwhelm me now with a flurry of punches and kicks barely giving me the chance to block much less counterattack. This was looking bad, I was going to lose again. Usually, I could squish in a couple of victories, and towards the end of the past few months, I had begun to win more and more to the point where it had become 50/50. Today, however, I wasn’t exactly at my fullest, it was Sunday afternoon and the weakening of my abilities was definitely fading, but I wasn’t there quite yet.
I blocked a high kick that came dangerously close to hitting home and decided that I might as well try something new, see if I could at least win at least once today. The thing with my dad was that he was an expert fighter, and no matter how much I tried to read his movement I couldn't quite predict what he was about to do. All I could go off was the subtle tensing of particular muscles and slight movements and even then it was still far from accurate.
If this was going to work I had to take a risk. I observed him closely, all the while blocking his attack as we both danced around each other in an impossibly fast dance, one where a single miscalculation would end up with me losing. It took a while but I finally saw my chance, putting all my speed into it I duked, swiping his feet from under him in a movement that was so fast even I was surprised for a second as he went down.
My surprise didn’t last long as I jumped into action, as the way to win was to immobilize him or knock him out. I could try to get him in a hold, but I would have to stun him first, otherwise, I would be the one ending up in a lock. I raised my foot up and brought it down with an axe kick, landing my heel down on the dead center of his face, all the while silently apologizing to him in my head. The sound of bones shattering as my foot hit its mark made me hesitate for a few seconds, a hesitation that probably cost me the fight. Before I knew it I was the one on the ground, dad having grabbed my ankle and, much like I had done to him only moments before, pulled my feet from under me.
My ears rang as my head hit the hard concrete floor, my teeth closing so hard on themselves I tasted blood from chopping off a piece of my tongue and I landed face up. “Don't ever hesitate in a fight”, Dad told me now standing over me, one of his knees on my neck, to cut off my air supply, and the other on my chest using all of his weight to make it harder for me to throw him off. His face was bloodied, his nose was completely ruined and I could see some pieces of cartilage sticking out here and there, I wanted to feel guilty about it but on the other hand, he was very much choking me at the moment.
I tried to struggle free, punching him, arching my back trying to unbalance him just the slightest bit but nothing was working and all my struggle was doing was quickly diminish my limited supply of oxygen. Black spots began to dance across my vision as my lungs burned demanding oxygen I couldn't provide, I was close to passing out and had no more strength to fight. Despairing, I tapped his leg three times, the signal of surrender. He freed me, and I took a huge mouth full of air, gulping it down greedily as my dad observed me with a stone-cold face.
“You have two minutes to get yourself together”, he said, walking away from me. Already I could see his face healing but he likely also wanted time to recuperate himself. Both of us were drenched in sweat, our gym clothes covered in dirt and dust from the basement floor as well as bloodstains from all the injuries we had gotten from practicing, how long had it been now? I had completely lost track of time, but it felt like we had been practicing throughout the entire day.
I felt exhausted, my muscles screamed every time I moved and I ached everywhere from injuries that hadn’t gotten a full chance to heal. Dad was pushing me to my very limits, I could sense a new form of urgency in him. Usually, he was calmer, more patient, and not nearly as brutal. From the moment he had picked me up Friday afternoon from school I had felt it, he could no longer hide the tension in his body, the nervous tapping of his fingers. That nervousness had apparently translated into pushing my training to a whole new extreme, beating the living daylights out of me. It was clear he was no longer holding back.
From the moment I could walk dad began training me, and I couldn't even remember what my life had been like before the weekly practice sessions. They had been fun when I was little but gradually they had gotten harder and harder, more violent as dad stopped holding back more and more. I had never questioned why he had trained me to fight, or even what technique he used. From what I could gather it was a mix of a lot of martial arts, just with all of their prohibited techniques thrown in.
Of course with our strength and speed the fights often ended with some significant damage to the property, not to mention being so noisy that our neighbors probably thought we had adopted a pet rhinoceros. Because of this Dad had moved them to the basement years ago, I couldn't remember the last time we had lived in a house without one. From his end of the room dad got up from his perch on a folding chair, “Time up”, he said, getting into a fighting position.
Trying not to throw up I got to my feet unsteadily. As we fought over the last few hours all I could think was all the craziness that had gone on in my life recently, the strange messengers that came to me in my dreams, the weakening of my abilities seemingly from my dad’s own hand, and overall his words as he cried thinking I was sleep, that day I had understood that if I wanted to stay with him there would be a price to pay, at the time I had thought it would only be the lethargy that now plagues my life, now I realized this was also part of it - out here it was dangerous, and I needed to fight to survive.
The anger and lack of control I felt over my own life helped me back to my feet, fueling me to where my body could no longer manage it. It made me hold my fist firmly in a guarding position in preparation for the fight, if this was the real world, if this is what it took to stay with my father, then I would fight to my very last breath.
My nightstand clock marked 9:00 p.m as I crawled into my bed feeling like I had been put through a meat grinder. I couldn't see how I could possibly move tomorrow to go to school, I had so many injuries my healing was having trouble catching up. The only thing that had stopped me from crashing down back in our basement was the hunger that burning so much energy brought, and I had to eat to help my healing factor along. Despite my earlier failures I had managed to get a few victories, it hadn’t been much but I had also been running on fumes and anger so there was that.
I debated whether or not I had the energy to get the covers around me when I saw my phone screen illuminate, letting me know there was a new message. Under normal circumstances, no person’s message, short of the president of the United States, would make me stretch my arm and grab the phone. However, my eyes had managed to catch who the message was from. Instantly I grabbed the phone and with newfound energy opened the message from Sara.
“Hi”, she wrote “Are you going to school tomorrow?”.
It took me a few seconds to calm myself down from the sudden excitement that she was messaging me to actually reply.
“Yeah, I am”.
Almost immediately she replied.
“Good”. “Because I won't be able to make it to practice so make sure nobody touches my murals”.
A wave of disappointment hit me when I realized I won't be able to see her during practice; maybe I could catch her during school hours? It seemed unlikely since I hadn't seen her in any of my classes. Shaking my head, I wondered what was wrong with me, I really was turning into an idiot, or more than I had already been, it was like just thinking about her significantly reduced my thinking capabilities.
“Okay, sure no prob”. I wrote back
“I'll keep them safe”.
She sent me several laughing emojis.
“Sure you will”, she wrote back and I could practically feel the sarcasm through her words. “If you can remember what they look like”.
For the life of me I couldn't figure Sara out -, one moment she was nice, the next she was calling me stupid to my face, even when she was asking me for a favor. I thought of asking my dad to give me a crash course on how to understand women 101, but considering my mom had dumped him with a newborn baby, I wasn’t sure he was a reliable source. Maybe Jake could help me out, but asking him about it would only bring on a torrent of jokes at my expense, not to mention that would confirm to him his notion that something was going on between me and Sara and then he would tell everybody and just publicly humiliate me, nope, definitely no.
“Okay… sorry not sorry for that”. Sara wrote before I could come up with a response to her last text. “But seriously, you looked weird Friday, maybe say no to drugs, ever heard of that?”
There she went again, I thought, looking at my phone like some kids looked at their calculus books, with complete and utter confusion, no hope shining in their eyes of ever understanding.
“Anyway…”, she once again wrote before I could reply, she had some crazy texting speed. “Maybe I'll see you tomorrow, idk, but keep my murals safe”.
Finally, it seemed she had run out of steam giving me a chance to reply.
“Okay, don't worry”.
In the second she had once again replied.
“I would thank you but I'll save that for later when I find my murals safe”.
With that, she disconnected, no goodbyes of any sort. I held the phone for a few minutes, hoping she would again write something but she remained disconnected and finally, my tiredness won over. I put the phone back on my night table and laid back on the bed. I was asleep before my head could hit the pillow.
Slowly I opened my eyes, immediately knowing something was wrong - the light was too white, too dull. It took me less than a second to realize where I was.
I was back in the interrogation room, the masked man sitting across from me, the metal table reflecting the light as he twirled his metal pen in between gloved fingers, I could almost picture a malicious grin plastered across his hidden face. “Greeting Asher”, he said, much like last time.
I'm not ashamed to admit I screamed as soon as I saw him, and that my mind went into complete panic mode remembering our last encounter, but unlike last time I wasn’t tied up, and the metal chair I had been sitting on went flying as I jump back, and away from him, so violently I crashed against the wall behind me. “Hmm… What a show.” He said with his insufferable condescending tone like I was a badly behaved puppy. “Wish I could have gotten that on video, my colleagues would have been rolling seeing the face you just made”.
“What are you doing here?”, I growled at him, “Get out of my head”.
He chuckled, “Ah, you are quite amusing”, he said, “Came to check up on your progress of course”, he said, clicking his pen, blue electricity coming from one end. Whatever crazy part of him thought that I was about to let me touch me again was dead wrong, in seconds I had jumped for him with the full intention of knocking him out… or worse. My attack, however, didn’t get very far, my legs giving out from under me before I could even gather enough strength to jump; I only produced a little hop and then went tumbling to the ground unable to move a single muscle in my body.
“Didn’t I tell you last time?” He said, approaching me, or that at least I could gather since I couldn't even move my neck to look towards him, “I would paralyze you if you misbehaved?” I tried to respond to him as he came into my line of vision but my tongue was tied, all I could manage was a gurgling sound that only ended up putting saliva into my throat, choking me, but I was unable to cough to get rid of the sensation. “You look quite uncomfortable”, he mocked, walking around me casually, as I struggled to breathe. “If only you would have been a good little boy”.
He brought down his pen, blue sparks flying from its end as he got it within an inch of the skin of my neck, “Remember”, he said, his masked face leaning down, “If you want to save yourself from unnecessary pain when you are here you obey me understood? Otherwise things could turn… even more unpleasant for you”. The sight of the speaking electricity and what it meant had made my heart skip a beat in terror, now I couldn't even move, I was helpless. I wanted to cry and scream in fear but it was like my entire body had stopped working and all I could do was observe in helpless anguish as he brought the pen closer and closer.
Just when it was about to touch my skin he stopped, the electricity on his pen disappeared and suddenly I could move my neck again. “All right, let's try this again”, he said, “Nod if you understand, I'm going to free you from the paralysis and you are going to sit down calmly and pay attention to what I'm going to say”. He looked down at me, but I refused to acknowledge him, making him sigh. “Here's the deal, I'm not going to actually check your markings today, that was just a little prank to have some light-hearted fun, this job is quite boring most of the time you know?” I probably still looked unconvinced, which made him sigh again. “Use your head boy, if I had wanted to check your abilities today I would have tied you up from the beginning, especially considering you just tried to rip my throat out less than a minute ago”.
What he was saying made sense in theory, and what was the alternative, staying here on the floor paralyzed? I didn’t like it but might as well play along with him. “It's the only way to go”, he assured me, making me remember he could read my thoughts. Slowly, and reluctantly I nodded, knowing that I had no other choice. Immediately I could feel my body again, move it and I jumped back to my feet, making a very wide circle around him as I picked up the fallen chair.
If he was worried I would attack him again he didn’t show it, instead sitting back down, crossing his legs in a sigh of relaxation like he was on the shores of a tranquil beach. I took a seat opposite him, my arms crossed, trying to control my expression into one of disinterest instead of fear. “So here is what we are going to do today”, he said, opening his hands that had been previously empty, and from them, glass spheres bounced onto the table making a loud clicking sound. The spheres were around the size of a large marble, transparent with only periodically flashes of light in their center. I tried not to flinch as they got closer to me, my nails digging into my palms.
“Now what you are going to do is grab them one by one”. Lionel instructed, arranging them in a semi-circle around me. The last thing I wanted to do was touch those things, but as I was quickly finding out there was no way to get out of this situation except to obey him. I grabbed the one closest to me, one that periodically flashes red, a tingling sensation went up my arm and my marking flared up slightly, in my hand the sphere began glowing red, no longer only flashing. The man made a slightly surprised sound and took notes in earnest on a yellow legal pad that had appeared out of nowhere. He pointed at the sphere closest to the one I was holding; “All right now grab that one”.
I put the red one down and it immediately stopped glowing, going back to sparking. The next sphere looked like somebody had trapped a shadow that appeared and disappeared within it. Again a tingling feeling went up my arm as soon as I grabbed it, but with this one it was weaker - barely there - and my marking hardly responded, however the shadows within the ball expanded till the entire thing ,once transparent, was now pitch black.
Again Lionel was taking notes frantically, so fast that I wouldn't have been surprised if smoke had begun coming out of the paper. “Continue”, he said, barely having finished writing. The next sphere had something that looked similar to strands of emerald whirling around in the middle in a pattern that made me think of diminutive snakes appearing and disappearing out of thin air. I hardly felt anything when I grabbed that one, only a barely perceptible tingle. Within it the vines stopped disappearing and grew thicker until they were swirling all around the sphere, looking uncomfortable, like actual live animals.
“Impressive”, the man muttered under his breath looking between me, the sphere, and his notes as he wrote. This time he didn’t need me to tell me what to do, as soon as he was done writing I picked up the next glass ball, this one I could hardly notice what was within it since the thing itself was almost transparent, but it looks a lot like a blue-toned water droplet evaporating and condensing within a second. I felt this one more than the green and black one, but not as much as the red and within it, the water expanded till it looked like I was holding a miniature ocean in my hand, an ocean that gloved blue. The more we advanced on the semicircle the more excited the man got and I began dreading whatever he was getting so worked up about as I dropped the blue sphere and grabbed one that had a tiny piece of something white within it.
This one hardly responded to my touch, I couldn't even feel its effect within me, and the little pieces of white stuff only expanded enough to allow me to notice, with horror, that what was trapped within it were small animal bones, sufficient to say I only held that one for as long as it was strictly necessary. I was almost to the end of the semi-circle now, only two more to go. The sphere next to the last one didn’t look too suspicious, much like the red one it flashed, but this time with warm yellow light, and much like it, it began glowing as soon as I grabbed it, not as much as the red one, and I felt it less, but it was still quite bright.
As soon as I had put it down and was about to grab the last one I noticed the man scooted back in his chair, putting some distance between himself and me, I gave him a questioning glance, looking at the last sphere with newfound concern. “Don’t mind me”, he said, pen ready, “Just being careful”. Unlike all the other spheres it was easy enough to tell what this one had within it, flashes of blue cyanine electricity sparked inside of it. After the first sphere I hadn’t hesitated much when grabbing the rest, but if Lionel had moved back now I found myself scared as I reached out and took the sphere in my hand.
The effect was immediate, the tingling feeling felt like a zap of electricity as it traveled up my arm and down my spine. My marking flared up and the one on my arm began glowing grey and then turned a blue so bright it looked almost white. In the sphere itself the lightning spread all through it but unlike the other time it went out of it, sparking around it and landing on my hand and arms like I was holding an electric sparkler. Despite this I couldn't feel any pain from the electricity, only a slight tingling that wasn’t painful at all.
Around the room, a sound like several electrical explosions resonated around us but it didn’t sound like they were coming from the sphere, more like from outside the room. Unlike the other time, the man wasn’t taking any notes, instead, he had scooted even farther away from me as the lighting began arching wider and wider, the white-blue glow on my marking spreading up my arm making me look down at my skin alarm, they had never done that before and the more it spread the more the miniature storm in my hand grew.
“All right put it down!”, He called, for the first time sounding scared.
He didn't have to tell me twice. I dropped the thing on the table and it landed with a clang, bouncing around several times. “All right… ” The man said, still sounding slightly flustered, “That was...interesting to say the least. Unfortunately you also just fried all the electronics in every house on the block”. I had been observing the fading glow from my marking with a mixture of horror and fascination at the new development but I looked up sharply the moment he said that. “What?” He was back to sounding amused as he spoke, “Like you heard it, that was the explosions you heard before, everything that used electricity just got toasted, light bulbs exploded, the internal electrical systems of the houses probably also got cooked, in general, quite the impressive achievement”.
“Impressive? I repeated, slamming my hands against the table, making all the spheres bounce and fall to the floor “What did you do to me? I'm not supposed to be able to do that!”. He shook his head, chuckling, like this was all one big joke, “Oh Asher, you still have so much to learn about who you are, what you can do - but don't worry child, you will get your answers soon, all in due time.” I was about to scream at him to just explain it then and there but my mouth wouldn't open as I found myself paralyzed again but this time standing up. Anger boiled within me like milk left without supervision on the stove, I really didn’t like how nobody explained anything to me, my father only looked away and pretended he hadn’t heard me and Lionel turned me into a living mannequin.
“You would just love to kill me right around now wouldn't you?” he mocked, leaning towards me, “Well, back into the real world you go”, he said placing his thumb over my forehead, “But don't get any funny ideas, not even there can you bring me down.” If he had been trying to calm me down that certainly wasn’t the method to use, but I didn’t quite have the time to get angrier as my mind went dark and my consciousness faded.
I struggle to get rid of the sleepiness as I tried to wake up, my-half consciousness not being able to hold on to all the anger that had filled me just a second ago; now all I was full of was wishing I could sleep for longer, but as my brain annoyingly reminded me, I had school today. As I had expected Lionel's scent was present in the house, and focusing, I also caught his voice. He was arguing with my father, both of them speaking in a language I had never heard before. It sounded ancient, I couldn't explain to myself how I came to that conclusion but that was all I could think of as I heard it, especially because it was guttural, to the point where both of them sometimes sounded like they were growling at each other.
As I listened, wondering what they were so fervently screaming to each other about, some of the words began to make sense, despite me not ever having heard the language, I concentrated harder, trying to catch more of the conversation and then, out of nowhere, it was like a switch had been flipped in my head and suddenly, I could understand every word of what they were saying.
“It's necessary, Dion”, Lionel was saying, “You yourself saw what he is capable of, you know who he is”. “He is still too young”, My father countered, “Give him a few more years.” “Oh heaven help us!” Lionel said, and I could almost imagine him flinging his arms around dramatically, “Dion, you can't keep up this for longer, you spend your days luring them away from him, fighting them - tell me, how many injuries did you get this week?, how much did you suffer just to keep them away from his trail?”. My heart sank as I heard it, especially the silence coming from my dad.
“I don't mind doing it”, he answered after a while in a softer tone. “Such a masochist!” Lionel remarked sarcastically; “Well since you don't care about yourself, what about the boy? Do you plan to keep him sedated for a few years? You know just how miserable that existence is, right Dion? Have you even looked at your kid? What you are doing to your own child?” Again silence from my father; “It's better than going there.” He said after an agonizingly long time.
This time it was Lionel who was silent for a while and he finally sighed, “Ah, I see what's going on, you love the kid don't you? Grew fond of him? Dion, Dion, Dion”, he said and I knew for sure he was shaking his head at my father, “You know you weren’t supposed to do that right? Why can't you just be like your peers?, all of them dropped their kids off the moment they got the chance but here you are, still keeping the boy”. Again silence from my father but this time he didn’t answer. “You were always too sentimental”, Lionel continued, “Even as a kid, probably got that from your mother, but where did that get her Dion? What happened to her?” I could almost picture my father flinching at the question, at least I heard his sharp intake of breath. “She… is dead”.
“Of Course she's dead, killed at the ripe old age of 30, leaving behind her a 12 yeard old orphan, all because she wanted to stay with you, she pushed the limits by keeping you for so long - what you are doing with Asher is absolute insanity Dion. You are going to get yourself killed, and then what? Asher will have to grow up without his father”.
His words scared me, and judging by his accelerated heartbeat I could tell they had also struck home with my father, especially the part about his mother, a story I had never heard before. The few times I had asked my dad about my grandparents he told me he had never met his parents, apparently that wasn’t the truth. “Bring the boy to us, Dion.” Lionel continued, “You are still very young, your life is just starting. Find yourself a pretty wife and have all the kids you want, but Asher belongs to us, and you know it.”
Hearing that my father practically exploded, I had never heard him so worked up about anything. “Don't talk about him like he is a piece of furniture!” He shouted and I could hear our newly bought kitchen table shatter, but this time under my father's fist. “He doesn’t belong to anybody, understood? And if you are going to treat him like you treated me, forget it! You aren’t getting your hands on him!”. What followed was a long and tense silence, only marked by the two men breathing, if a fight was going to break out it would happen at any moment now. I sat up in bed slowly, prepared to come to my fathers aid if necessary but the moment never came.
Lionel stood up, his chair making a squeaking sound, “I see now that I won't be able to reason with you Dion; I tried to do this the peaceful way, to make the entire experience a lot less traumatizing for you and the boy, but you are a hard-headed kid Dion. You have one month, if the boy isn’t in our care by the end of it, we will remove him from you forcefully.”
I could hear him walking away now, his shiny shoes making a clicking sound on our wooden floor. “Oh and Dion, it would be best if you didn’t force our hand, that could be… Detrimental to Asher’s education.” With that, he left, closing our front door behind him, which sounded an awful lot like a judge bringing down the gavel closing a case, and with it, sealing our fate.
That morning we ate on the living room couch. Dad offered me no explanation for the broken kitchen table and I asked for none, a courtesy that went both ways as he didn’t ask me about why none of our electronics worked, or why the floor was covered in glass from shattered light bulbs.
I wanted to speak to him, to ask him so many things, about the strange test Lionel had ran on me, about my marking glowing, for him to tell me who Lionel was, why he wanted me to take me away and to where, who was my grandmother? Why hadn’t he ever talked about her? But overall, I just wanted him to stop protecting me, to stop getting hurt over and over just for my sake - I wasn’t a little kid anymore, if he would just let me fight besides him, to protect each other instead of me standing on the sidelines… But I said noting, we both ate in silence, not looking at each other.
“Are you ready to go?”, he asked, getting up from the couch as soon as he was done eating. The first words he had spoken to me today. Quickly stuffing the last few pieces of food into my mouth, before getting up and running to leave my plate in the sink and climb the stairs. “I'll be down in a minute”.
8:15 AM, AP CALCULUS
First period, calculos, came and went uneventfully, except for Jake who swore under his breath the entire class as the teacher explained a new topic. Even with my head buzzing with other thoughts I remember our conversation from last friday and promised to help him out with the topic which did significantly calm him down. Next I had history and I met Daenerys out in the hallway so we could walk together there. Today her hair was even more spickey than usual, which I would have found amusing if my mind hadn’t been going a million miles per hour thinking about other more important and pressing matters.
Operating on auto pilot, I followed her into our history classroom, not even bothering to say hi to our teacher who, as usual, was greeting everybody from his desk as they came in. The only thing that managed to bring me out from within my head was a voice that spoke besides me. “What the hell are you even doing in an A.P class?” Sara asked, sitting to my right. I hadn’t even noticed her until she spoke, and I wasn’t sure if she had been there from the moment I sat down or if she had arrived later, either way she now had my full attention as she was leaning awfully close to me.
“Uh…” I said, a good reflection of my intelligence, “... I dont know?”.
Great, now I probably came off sounding even more stupid than usual, how did I manage to do that every time I was around her?. “You don't know?”, she repeated mockingly, making me look down at her hands instead of her face, suddenly fascinated by all the rings she wore. There were several silver ones, a white one, one with a blue stone...
“Hi there”, Daenerys called, from my left, “You are Sara right? I saw you in practice the other day but never around here, are you a new student?”. I had been so engrossed by the fact that Sara was sitting beside me I hadn’t even stopped to wonder why she was in this class. I had never seen her before. “Oh yea, my family moved here recently.” she told Daenerys. “You already know my name, but I don't know yours?” Dan smiled at her, “I'm Daenerys, but my friends call me Dan, are you a friend of Asher’s?”. Sara rolled her eyes but it looked like more of a playful gesture, “You could say that, we are working together on some stuff for the scenery”.
“Great”, Daneries said, “I did hear there was a new member of the crew that was ridiculously good at painting, I'm guessing that’s you?” For once Sara looked almost embarrassed, “Ah… I'm not that good, but I try my best”. I observe in wonder as the two girls launch into conversation, apparently they were both history nerds, and theater fanatics, no surprise there, but where Daenerys leaned more towards acting Sara love scenery and costume creation.
Soon they were talking like old friends and Daenerys had invited Sara to eat with us during lunch time, an offer she gladly accepted, all the while I was sandwiched in between them, awkwardly looking from one to the other not sure of what to do with the conversation I was not included in but found myself in the middle off.
Well at least one good thing had come out of the awkward situation, I would be able to see more of Sara and even in the turmoil of worry that I found myself in, that fact was enough to at least make me look forward to something.
The rest of the day went awfully fast but at the same time dragged on forever and by the time practice rolled around I was yittery with nerves and could hardly pay attention to that which was said to me, my mind constantly drifting off to wonder about my father, worry about what he could possibly be doing right now, how much danger he was in and how I wish I could be with him at the moment.
True to my promise to Sara I grabbed her mural and hid them behind some stuff since I couldn't quite bring myself to telling anybody not to touch them. The two large canvases mostly smelled of pain but very faintly I could detect her scent on them, a sweet fragrance like wildflowers that probably came from her soap, it made me miss her, if she had just been here practice could have been bearable.
During lunch, she sat next to me, and seemed almost nice, chatting with me about trivial stuff, occasionally a mean comment would slip out, but I was beginning to realize she didn’t mean half of what she said, somehow it felt like her way of showing affection was insulting me, which was a wild concept if I had ever seen one. Jake seemed to have noticed as well because he kept smirking and nudging me all through lunch. He and Dan, who sat beside him, occasionally exchanged looks and snickered, which only made me more embarrassed at the entire thing.
Somehow it was the best and worst lunch of my life so far, but I would incline towards the best since I got to sit so close to Sara, something I could get used to. “Hey Asher”, Rafael called, “Are you auditioning to be a statue or what? Come on, we have work to do.” I turned my head sharply to look at him, which made me realize I had been standing perfectly still looking at a pile of scenery pieces. “Uh… Yea, sorry”, I said, walking to stand beside him, shaking my head to try and get rid of all the buzzing within it, “What do you want me to do?”.
I was about an hour and a half into practice, and I was in the middle of running back from the gym to the theater to look for something when a pain in my head so sharp hit me I fell to my knees, my hands at my temples in agony. I think I screamed, but I could no longer hear myself, my vision became blurry and vague images flashed across my mind - I couldn't tell what any of them were, but all I saw was red, so much red.
The last image was by far the clearest, and it chilled me to the bone, a picture of the biggest window on our living room, the glass shattered, the white curtain torn and bloody, softly blowing in the wind, a trail of blood leading to the window. I sprang to my feet the moment the images faded, my head still pounding but the pain lessening. I heard somebody cry out in surprise and turn to look to find Jake on the floor. Apparently, he had been checking up on me and I had pushed him back accidentally when I stood up.
As the world came back into focus I realized I was surrounded by concerned faces, I had fallen only a few meters away from the theater entrance and they must have heard me scream.
“Asher?”, Daenerys called, “What's wrong?”. I looked around wildly, so altered I could hear my heart pounding in my ears, pumping me full of adrenaline, my marking burned as a response but I didn’t care, something had happened to my father, something terrible, the thought filled me with dread, and fear. “I'm fine”, I growled, a few light bulbs exploding above me, making the people around me dive for cover from the rain of broken glass.
Everybody now looked confused, shaken, but overall scared, some of them were even eyeing me with newfound fear. Even Daenerys backed away from me. “Asher?” she said. I could feel myself shivering, the image of those blood splatter curtains engraved in my head, I was scared, terrified, I needed to get to my house, and fast. “Dan?” I said, my voice coming out shaky, “Can you drive me somewhere?” I knew she had a car, I had seen it, a beat-down buggy. Sometimes somebody else would pick her up in a different vehicle. I was just hoping that today she had driven here herself.
Her eyes widened, “Like right now?”
Carefully I walked closer to her, broken glass crunching beneath my feet, “Yes… Please Dan, I need help”. She must have seen something in my face that convinced her because now her expression was that of determination as she brought out her keys from her pocket, “Of Course, let's go.”
I barely had the presence of mind to type my address into the navigation app on her phone as we both sat inside her car, the interior old-looking but clean, and it smelled of air fresheners and coffee. Jake had wanted to come with us but Deaneries had talked him into staying behind and covering for us in case somebody wondered where we were. That and to calm the kids down, some of them were still pretty altered after getting glass rained on them.
Quickly enough the suspicion had been removed from me, after all, nobody could make light bulbs explode at will, or so they believed, and so the blame was easily passed on to a curiously timed electrical malfunction, or that was what I had managed to hear before we left the school. I hoped nobody tried to really look too deep into it, but even if they did I couldn't bring myself to care, the one thing in my mind was my father, and to get to him as soon as possible.
“Are we going to your house?” Daenerys asked as we waited at an interception. I looked back at her, “Yes”, I answered in a tight voice. “Is this about your family?” she asked with a worried frown, “Did something happen?” The car ahead of us began moving, meaning we could finally advance again. “I’m… I don't know.” I said in complete honesty. She reached out and squeezed my hand, “It’s okay Asher, I'm sure it will be okay”.
Her touch brought me some comfort, but it was short-lasting. I wanted to believe her, that everything was okay, that I was only overreacting but the feeling in the pit of my stomach, the soft prickle of pain in my temples and the lingering images in my head told me the contrary.
My worst fears came true when we were but a block away from my house. “Stop the car”, I called so loudly that Daenerys completely floored the brakes making the tires squeal. “What wrong?”, she called, alarmed, still gripping the wheel. “Stay here”, I commanded, getting out of the car; “Don't follow me, okay?” She bit her lower lip nervously; “Scream if you need help,” she said, “I'll call 911.”
I nodded dazedly at her, closing the door behind me, I wanted to tell her to drive away, to not risk herself but I couldn't bring myself to, she was my only way out here if I needed it, and that was a very real possibility with what I had smelled. It was blood, the entire block reeked of it and I knew exactly who it belonged to. I took off running, not caring who saw me, what they thought of it, as I ran toward our little two-story brick house.
The smell of blood only became stronger and stronger the closer I got, making me dread what I would find the moment I opened the door. By the time I stood on my front porch I was shaking, my eyes watering despite my best efforts to stop myself from crying, trying to swallow the lump that had taken a stubborn residence within my throat. Our wooden front door was slightly ajar so all it took was a little push for it to creak open revealing the gruesome scene it hid.
Blood, there was so much blood. It was spattered on the walls, on the ceiling, puddles of it on the floor, pieces of flesh, organs, and hair clumps along with it in some places. The sight was so overwhelming that, despite my urgency, I turned around and threw up on our porch floor, tears falling down my face as my entire body shook and shivers of anguish overpowered me, making me feel like I was being choked, suffocated.
It took me a few precious seconds to catch my breath, to stop retching, the only thing that kept me going was the urgency to find my father. Still feeling faint, I finally went inside the house, the floor was sticky with blood, and it dripped from the ceiling onto my head and my clothes. It was fresh, not yet dried or coagulated - this had happened recently.
My dad’s faint heartbeat was what kept me going through that hell, the promise that he was still alive. With newfound urgency I turned the corner and into the living room where he finally came into sight. The entire place had been wrecked, like a tornado had gone through the inside of the house. Every single window was broken, every piece of furniture shattered and in the center of it all his limp form laid, so mauled and bloodied only his scent let me know that it was him.
This couldn't be true, I told myself, petrified as I took in the scene, this had to be a nightmare. Yea… that had to be it, soon I would wake up and be safe in my bed, dad would be perfectly fine, waiting for me downstairs with breakfast and he would sip his coffee while he read the news on his phone and everything would be alright, I thought even as the scene blurred with my tears and I felt sick to my stomach. Everything would be alright… But the nightmare wouldn't go away and finally, I couldn't take it any longer.
“Dad!” I choked out as I ran towards him feeling like the world was collapsing, the walls closing themselves on me ready to swallow me into the depths of despair.