Ryan’s Story – The Aftermath
“Try it a little higher,” Ryan said holding the punching bag, “and don’t bend the wrist.”
“Like this?” Ben asked lightly tapping the bag.
Ryan nodded. “That’s it; if you bend your wrist when you punch you could do it in.” The younger boy repeated the movement several times, alternating between his left and right fists. After a few practice punches, Ryan told him to put some force behind the blows. Ben paused and punched the bag hard twice. “Try putting your whole body into the punch.” Ben nodded and threw all of his weight into one punch, shoving the bag back hard. Ryan lost his grip on the bag as it swung freely, almost knocking him over. “I think you got it,” he said laughing, “let’s try some kicks.”
It was a warm Sunday afternoon, just after lunch. After falling asleep watching the DVD with Trey, Ryan had slept soundly, sleeping through until late morning. Ben had called sometime before midday and invited him around to his to hang out for the day. Ryan wasn’t sure whether he wanted to go, but Susan had been in full-on mother mode and told him to go, saying, “It’ll be good for you to get out of the house.” Pulling on his hoodie that he had worn last night, a folded piece of scrap paper fell out of the front pouch. He picked it up and opened it, reading the words written on the paper. “Call me, if you need to talk.” It was signed “Daniel” and had a mobile number written along the top. Ryan had recognised the man that had saved him last night was the same man that had fought the demon during his out-of-body-experience after the car crash two months ago. Daniel must have placed the note in his pocket when he was checking him over with a first aid kit just after they had arrived back in Cliffport. Ryan didn’t remember him doing it, but he had been in shock most of the way home so it wasn’t surprising that he hadn’t noticed. Twice the man had come out of nowhere and saved his life. Ryan wasn’t sure whether to be grateful or creeped out, this man seemed to be spending a lot of time watching him. Ryan had placed the folded paper in a drawer and gone over to Ben’s house on the far side of town.
The two boys were in the garage where Ben’s father kept his old weight training equipment. Somehow they had ended up here, both stripped to the waist as Ryan showed Ben some simple fighting moves. Ryan went slowly so Ben could watch and follow his movements as went through a series of basic kicks. After several minutes, Ryan told Ben to combine the punches and the kicks and try to hit him. Ben was a quick learner and naturally stronger than Ryan. He had to be told on more than one occasion to pull his blows. Although a good three inches shorter than Ryan, he had the edge when it came to body strength being stronger than he looked. Ben, after all, was on the town’s Under-17s rugby team for a reason. Ryan’s greater experience and skill meant that Ben was only able to land a few blows, the older boy’s speed compensating for his lack of strength.
“Where did you learn how to do all this?” Ben asked at one point between attacks.
“About two years ago I was at a care home in Plymouth,” Ryan said ducking below one of Ben’s swings, “one of the care workers took an interest in me. Saw that I was getting bullied by some of the older kids and saw that I wasn’t really putting up much of a fight.”
Ben managed to get a kick through Ryan’s defences and lightly tapped the side of Ryan’s leg. “Why not?”
“I was still screwed up big time back then,” Ryan said returning the blow with a quick one-two jab, “big time emo depression and all that, not that I still don’t have my bad days. That was a good kick by the way. Anyway, he took me down to a local gym and started teaching me some basic self-defence.”
“You got good pretty quickly then,” Ben said almost managing to avoid one of Ryan’s punches. It was a calculated and deliberate error however, the boy twisted as Ryan’s fist hit his shoulder, deflecting and dissipating most of the strike’s energy. He grabbed Ryan’s fist to immobilise it as he had been shown. Before he could do anything with the fist, Ryan brought his other fist swinging around, the heel of his palm stopping less than an inch from the nose.
“I’m not that good really,” Ryan said as the two boys separated a few steps before continuing. Ben gave him a sidelong glance before realising that Ryan wasn’t just being modest, he was genuinely underestimating his own level of skill. “The guy had a saying though. ‘Learn quickly or get smacked in the face’.”
“That sounds pretty harsh,” Ben said in surprise.
“No, it actually makes sense when you think about. If you don’t learn to block properly, you’ll end up getting hit.”
After an hour of sparring, both boys were glistening with sweat and exhausted. They decided to take a break, heading for the kitchen. As they entered the kitchen, Ben’s eighteen-year-old sister was sitting at the counter, talking on her mobile. She looked up as they walked through the side door, but quickly looked away, continuing her conversation.
“What do you want to drink?” Ben asked going to the fridge.
“Umm,” Ryan said looking at one of the photo’s stuck to a notice board with a pin, “what’ve you got?” A holiday photo taken at Disneyland, a younger Ben grinned as his parents stood behind him and his older sister stood next to him, a sheepish smile on her face as if she was embarrassed to be seen out in public with him. They looked happy together.
“Oh, that’s just my dorky little brother and one of his friends,” Ben’s sister said to the person on the other end of the phone, “no, the other one … walks around town with that cute little lost boy look on his face half the time … Eww that’s gross, he’s like fourteen or something … that was different, he was hot.” Ryan had turned scarlet with embarrassment by this point; Ben looked mortified by what his sister was saying. She saw this and looked evilly at the two boys. “Saying that, they’re both walking around with their shirts off, and I have to say, he doesn’t look half bad like. His muscles glistening with sweat.”
“Jessi,” Ben half-yelled, “knock it off!” She laughed and left the room, still talking on her phone. On her way out, she slapped Ryan on the bottom as she passed him. The boy yelped in surprise as he started hurriedly putting his t-shirt back on. “God, I’m sorry about that,” Ben said as he closed the door behind his sister, “she can be a real bitch sometimes.” He took two bottles of beer from the fridge, opening them with bottle opener attached to his key ring, and handed one of the opened bottles to Ryan.
“Erm, are you sure you’re parents are okay with this?” Ryan asked looking at the bottle dubiously.
Ben swallowed a mouthful of the beer. “Nah, they’re in France for the weekend. If they ask, I’ll just blame the missing beer on Jessi and her boyfriend.” The younger boy grabbed two more bottles from the fridge and a tube of Pringles from one of the kitchen cupboards. He didn’t seem to notice Ryan looking at his bottle uncertainly. Ben took Ryan upstairs to his room. The boy’s clothes and belongings were strewn everywhere but where they were supposed to be, a typical teenage boy’s room. The room itself was just below the roof of the bungalow in a converted attic. As Ryan entered the room, Ben opened one of the skylights and pushed a stepped stool to the window, climbing out onto the roof.
Ben lived in a bungalow on the edge of town on a narrow strip of land between the sea and steep cliffs. The back garden jutted up against a low sea wall and between that and the sea was a thin beach. Sitting on the shallow roof, they watched as a yacht leisurely glided across the water of the English Channel, the sea sparkling in the May sunshine. It was an exceptionally fine day and they sat there enjoying the view as they talked. Ryan was sipping gingerly at his beer, not entirely sure whether he liked the taste of it or not. It was his first beer; in fact, it was his first alcoholic drink. When he was younger, he had always avoided alcohol, especially after seeing the older kids getting drunk and what it did to them. Alcohol abuse often led them on a downward spiral ending in violence, exploitation or prison time. “Still, as long as I’m careful, what harm could one do?” He thought to himself as he drank the beer slowly.
“So,” Ben said at one point, “what’s her name?”
“Who?” Ryan said taking some crisps from the tube.
“The girl from the comic book store. You seem to know her pretty well.”
“Her name’s Melissa. When I was at that care home in Plymouth,” Ryan explained munching messily on some crisps, “I went to a local high school for a while. Me and Melissa were in the same class. She was the only one that actually talked to me. The rest were the usual jerks; she was nice.” Ben noticed that as he spoke, Ryan seemed happier, smiling slightly.
“Interesting,” Ben thought to himself.
Their conversation flitted from topic to topic; school, comics, TV. However, it was obvious to both of them that they were dancing around one topic in particular. Eventually, Ben had enough. “Are we going to talk about last night or am I going to have to get you drunk first?” Ryan just stared at him for an uncomfortable few seconds before taking a long swig from his bottle. “Look, forget I said…”
“My brother wants me dead,” Ryan said eventually, “and it’s not the first time he’s tried to kill me.” As he said this, his hand unconsciously strayed towards the scar across his neck. “Four years ago, together with another guy, he killed my mum and dad before trying to kill me.” He went on to explain how he’d spent the last four years constantly looking over his shoulder, how he did everything he could to ensure that he never stood out at school, the way he had cut himself off from those around him so that he’d never get betrayed again by someone he trusted. It all came out, the words tumbling over each other. Ben reached over, lightly grasping Ryan’s arm. His friend was staring off into the distance as he talked, as if he was stuck in his memories.
“You don’t have to tell everything if you don’t want to.”
Ryan turned to face him. “Yes I do,” he said, “you risked you life to help me last night, you deserve to know why.” They sat in silence as Ryan finished off his beer. “There’s one other thing.”
“What?” Ben asked, not sure if he was ready to hear any more at this point.
Ryan turned to face him again, a serious expression on his face. “Jake knows some of what I’ve told you, but he doesn’t know the whole story. The only people who do are Susan and Anthony. You have to swear to me that you’ll never tell anyone what I’m about to tell you.”
“Of course,” Ben said sincerely. Ryan reached into his pocket and pulled out a flick knife, extending the blade. Ben looked at the blade and then at Ryan. “Where’d you get a knife?” He said, although what Ben really wanted to know was what Ryan intended to do with it.
Ryan pressed the edge of the blade to the skin of his thumb, wincing as it drew blood. He held the knife out to Ben, blade first. “Not good enough, you have to swear. Blood swear.” The younger boy opened his mouth to protest. That was until he saw the look on Ryan’s face. He was deadly serious.
Ben took the knife and made a cut on his thumb as Ryan had. He pressed his thumb against Ryan’s. “I swear that I will never tell anyone any of this.” The boy said solemnly handing the knife back.
Satisfied, Ryan opened a second bottle and took a long swig, gulping down the beer. “Before he tried to kill me the first time, he did something else.” Ben, already shocked by what he had heard, listened in horror as Ryan told him of his brother’s act of sexual assault. Now he understood why his friend had such a hard time trusting anyone. He had been betrayed in the worst way imaginable by one of the few people he should’ve been able trust with his life.
They sat in silence for several long minutes before Ben spoke. When he did, his voice was barely above a whisper. “Why did he do all that?”
Ryan thought hard about what he was going to say next. He wasn’t sure how Ben would take what he was about to say. There was only one way to find out. “He was performing an occult ritual, a type of human sacrifice called a ‘Soul Pledge’,” Ryan said quietly as Ben listened. “Over the last couple of months, I’ve been studying the ritual; learning how it works and how it’s performed … and how to reverse it.”
“So far, nothing I’ve read gives me any clue how to break the pledge on either my soul or my parents.” Ryan said dejectedly.
“So what are you going to do now?” Ben asked.
Ryan looked out to sea. “I don’t know. But after what happened last night, I hope I’ve got enough time to think of something.”
Mark stood at the apartment’s window looking out over London’s skyline. Night had fallen but the lights of the city strove to drive back the darkness as its inhabitants sought to shield themselves from what the night may conceal. The moon was high in the cloudless sky as people scurried through the streets below the apartment building, unaware for the most part, what really went bump in the night. There was a dull whump and Mark suddenly felt a presence, he was no longer alone in the apartment. “My master’s patience with you is wearing thin,” a voice said angrily.
“You know,” Mark said turning to face the collector demon, “I don’t know why I warded this place.” Standing by the fire, Azarin was formed completely of smoke and mist. Despite the demon’s intangible form, his anger and frustration was clearly visible. “What do you want?”
“Three times you have failed to deliver your brother. Three times,” Azarin said holding up three fingers. “I hope you have an explanation for your failures.”
Mark walked across the room and sat down in one of the black leather armchairs. “I don’t believe in making excuses. Four years ago, I underestimated Ryan and last night it appears that he had help.”
Azarin folded his arms and looked down at Mark. “They sound like excuses to me, and that doesn’t explain why you didn’t take the opportunity to kill him two months ago when body-swapped with the Bennet kid.”
Mark smiled and got up from the chair. “Because my plan at the time did not include killing him but using him to obtain this.” He walked over to a cupboard and pulled out a small fist sized object wrapped in cloth. Peeling back the layers of fabric, he revealed a large red gem that glowed with its own inner light.
“A Seer Stone,” Azarin said with a measure of awe, “I thought they were all destroyed. Where on Earth did you find one?” The demon stared at the gemstone. Seer Stones were an ancient and powerful source of magic capable of being used for immense sorcery. Some of the most powerful rituals consumed a Seer Stone completely, depleting its magical power. Lost for centuries, it was believed they had all been destroyed or depleted. Yet, on a table in an upscale city apartment, sat one of the lost stones, possibly one of the last.
“Believe or not,” Mark said setting the gemstone down on a glass table, “in a burial mound less than two miles from where my brother is living.”
“So,” the demon asked, “I take it you have a plan to use it.”
Mark leaned back on the chair and smiled. “This time it won’t matter how tough the little shit is, who is friends are or how careful he is. He’ll walk into the trap blindly because he won’t even see it coming.”