Ryan’s Story – The Curse
The doctor quietly closed the bedroom door, careful not to wake the sleeping boy. Throughout the doctor’s examination, the boy had mumbled incoherently in the grip of the fever. Mercifully, he had finally slipped into a deep sleep. He turned to face the boy’s foster father.
“Well?” Anthony asked. When the school had called to say that Ryan had been taken ill, he had thought that it was just a cold or a bad reaction to the school food but he had been shocked at the state that the boy had been in when he arrived to collect him from the dock. Ryan had barely been able to stand without assistance, let alone walk to the car.
“He’s running a high fever,” the doctor explained, “without any identifiable cause. I’ve given him something to help him sleep but we should seriously consider moving him to a hospital as soon as possible.”
“It’s that bad?”
“Well,” the doctor said carefully, trying to convey the seriousness of the situation whilst not overly alarming Anthony, “his temperature is currently 40.6 degrees Celsius. If it rises another half a degree, he’ll enter a condition known as hyperpyrexia which is life threatening. Even it doesn’t rise; a fever at this level without an obvious cause…” He left the sentence hanging; the implications didn’t need stating aloud. “He should have been sent straight to hospital.”
Anthony opened the bedroom door a crack and peered inside. Ryan lay on his bed, his sweat soaking through his shorts and t-shirt. “Hey, you’re drinking it!” The boy mumbled in his sleep, the words barely audible above his laboured breathing.
“I thought it was just a stomach bug,” Anthony said quietly.
The doctor gently laid his hand on Anthony’s shoulder and took out his mobile phone. “I’ll go make the arrangements for the hospital transfer.”
“Now, where were we?” Mark said looking down at his oblivious younger brother. Ryan was sitting on the floor, his back to Mark as he took the game out of the console.
“There’s a film on Sky we could watch,” Ryan said as he picked up the TV remote and tried to find the right channel amongst the hundreds of digital stations. Behind him, Mark picked up Ryan’s skateboard that had been propped against the wall be the door. He held it in his hands, testing its weight and balance. Satisfied that it would make a suitable makeshift weapon, he gripped it tightly and began to approach his brother from behind. Sitting in front of the TV, Ryan stopped channel flicking as the accidentally switched to a news channel and saw something on the screen that caught his attention. The headline running along the bottom read, “Bodies found in hunt for missing boys.” His finger left the remote as the reporter began to speak.
“The small Cornish town of Cliffport is today in shock after police confirmed that the remains found yesterday have been positively identified as those of Stewart Masterson aged 15 and Jake Matthews aged 14. The bodies of the two missing boys were found by a local farmer several miles outside town in the early hours of yesterday morning.” The TV screen showed an old stone bridge over a small stream, the arch concealed behind a white tent as forensic experts in white suits examined the area. “Missing since the 27th of April, a massive search by local people had been organised after the two boys failed to return home after going cycling at a nearby BMX track. Police have refused to comment on rumours as to the condition of the bodies, only to say that ‘the remains were found in an extremely distressed state’. A murder inquiry has now been launched. As the news broke this morning, the town was already reeling from the loss of two other boys. On the night before Jake Matthews and Stewart Masterson went missing, 14-year-old Benjamin Ford disappeared while exploring a beach behind the local school during stormy weather. Presumed drowned, his body has still not been recovered. A month earlier, 12-year-old Trey Bennett lost his life after he fell through a warehouse skylight whilst attempting to break into the premises along with a gang lead by 16-year-old youth the young boy had befriended while in foster care. This latest tragedy brings the number of deaths of young people in the small town over the last two months to four.” As the reporter read out the names of the boys, four pictures that had been taken from school photos were displayed on the screen, their names in captions underneath.
Ryan wasn’t the only one whose attention was caught by the news report. Mark had been about to bring the skateboard crashing down on the back his brother’s head but had stopped when the pictures of the four boys came on the screen. Although he didn’t have his brother’s photographic memory, he could still recognise his brother’s friends from Cliffport. He knew that with Ryan’s life taking a different path that there would be differences, but the deaths of Ryan’s friends wasn’t something that he had expected. Curious as to how Ryan would respond to learning of the deaths, if he responded at all, Mark lowered the skateboard.
“You ever noticed,” Ryan asked, “that the police only ever say ‘remains’ when they don’t want to admit that they only found body parts?” He looked at the photos on the screen; one of them in particular caught his eye. It was of the younger boy, Trey. As he looked at him, he realised that he was identical to the blond-haired boy that had briefly superimposed himself over Doug during dinner. Unable to see the expression on his brother’s face, Mark was concerned as to whether the spell that had used a considerable amount of his magic was as complete as he thought it was. Ryan whistled, “I am so glad I don’t live in THAT town.” He picked up the remote and started flicking through the channels again. It was at that point that Ryan noticed the reflection in the TV screen of Mark standing behind holding his skateboard. Whirling around, he looked at Mark fiercely. “What are you doing with my board?” He barked in an accusatory tone.
For a brief second, Mark almost thought that his brother suspected something. However, he then remembered, or rather the memories of the other Mark came to him, that Ryan was very protective over his skateboard. After all, he had saved up his pocket money for several months to afford it. It wasn’t a cheap model from a high street store, but an expensive designer model that the young boy had lusted over for months. There were splashes of red on the deck’s decal, intended to resemble blood splatters. An appropriate decoration now that he thought about it.
Deciding not to delay any long, he looked at Ryan blandly. “This,” he said, quickly whipping the skateboard back and smashing it into Ryan’s face. The boy didn’t even have time to look surprised as his nose was crushed by the blow, the crunching sound of the breaking bone and cartilage oddly satisfying to Mark. Thrown back by the force of the unexpected attack, the back of Ryan’s head struck the TV, cracking the LCD screen. A smear of blood was left behind as he slumped to the floor, crying out and holding up his hands in an attempt to ward off further blows.
Ryan looked up at his older brother in horror, blood streaming from his broken nose and from the cut across the back of his head where it had struck the TV. He didn’t understand what was happening and why his brother would attack him with such ferocity and without warning. There was no expression on Mark’s face as he struck Ryan twice with the skateboard in quick succession, both times hitting him on the side of the head. The first blow cutting off his screams of terror as it rendered him unconscious, the second added for good measure. Mark threw the skateboard aside and looked down at Ryan who lay there helpless. It would have been a mercy for him to finish his brother off right there and then. Unconscious, he would not be able to resist or escape, nor would he suffer any more than he had already. However, Mark was not feeling particularly merciful and he wanted his brother to suffer in his final moments. Picking up his brother’s unconscious body and slinging it over his shoulder, he smiled. He had been right; the boy had never seen it coming.
Susan walked hurriedly through the hospital, following the signs towards the intensive care unit. Anthony had phoned her while she was at work to tell her that Ryan had been taken to the hospital. Normally quite laid back, her husband has sounded worried over the phone, which meant that whatever was wrong, it had to be serious for it to shake him. She had tried to leave work early but her boss, an interfering oaf that took credit for all his department’s hard work, had made her stay until the end of the day; implying that because Ryan was only her foster son, he wasn’t worth enough to let her have the afternoon off. It wasn’t the first time that he had passively insulted one of her “charity cases” as called them, but this time she had had to restrain herself from punching the supercilious man in the face. Thankfully, Anthony had been able to get one of the neighbours to check on Trey when he got home from school so Susan could go straight to the hospital from work. Since she worked in Plymouth, it made sense to go to the hospital in Derriford on the way home from work.
She found Anthony looking through a window into one of the ICU rooms. He looked up as she approached, smiling weakly at her. “How is he?”
Anthony nodded through the window. Ryan was lying on a bed in the room, looking very pale. A heart monitor and an IV drip were connected to him, and he was breathing through a ventilator. His pulse, as displayed on the monitor, was fast and erratic. “He hasn’t woken up since he was sent home from school,” Anthony said to her, “and he started to have difficulty breathing about twenty minutes ago.”
“What did the doctors say?” She asked quietly.
There was a telling pause before he answered. When he did, she could hear the tiredness in his voice. “They’re doing everything they can but they don’t know what’s making him sick. All they can do at the moment is to try and control the fever.”
“Why don’t you go home and get some rest?” Sue said. “Trey’ll be worried and hungry.” Anthony turned to his wife, torn between staying and going home. “Don’t worry; I’ll call if there’s any news.”
Ryan groaned as he came to, his eyes opening slowly. His head was pounding and there was a ringing in his ears. Still groggy from the vicious assault, it took several minutes for him to become fully aware of his situation. Blood covered his face, spilling out from his broken nose and the gash above his eye; the hair at the back of his head was matted with blood from a similar cut. He was lying spread-eagled on his back on the large table in the kitchen, his ankles and wrists tied to its four legs by short lengths of rope. A rolled up sock had been shoved into his mouth, gagging him. It was difficult to breathe around it, especially with the airways in his nose blocked. Ryan tugged at the ropes binding him to the table but it was no use, there was no strength in his limbs. Since waking up, the headache had only gotten worse and he felt nauseous too. “I’ve got concussion,” he thought to himself dully. Ryan slowly lifted his head and looked around the kitchen, squinting because of the darkness. The kitchen lights were off and he was alone, the only illumination coming from the living room lights that were filtering in from the hallway.
It was at the point that he noticed something disturbing. Embedded in the wood of the table by the side of his head was a large knife, the light glinting off its blade, stained with old dried blood. Something about the knife that was familiar to him, almost as if it was from a half-remembered dream. The more he looked at it the more it unnerved him. Mark had undoubtedly left it there for him to see. Looking around the kitchen, trying to see any sign of where his brother had gone, he noticed the clock on the microwave flashing 22:15. He’d been unconscious for a good two hours; mum and dad would be home any minute.
By now, the funk in his head had begun to clear and he slowly started to realise just how much danger he was facing. “Okay Ryan,” he thought to himself, “think, what the fuck is going on?” There was no reason for any of this; no hint that his brother would turn on him or that he was even capable of something like this. Then, out of nowhere, it hit him. Ryan knew with total clarity, that unless he escaped Mark was going to kill him; and not just him but Mum, Dad and Sarah too. He didn’t question how he knew this, he just did and he wasn’t going to let it happen again. “Wait,” he suddenly thought to himself, “where had THAT come from?” An image of his parents lying dead on the living room floor with their throats cut pushed its way into his mind. He blocked it out, along with the sudden paralysing fear that was associated with it. Right now, he couldn’t afford to think about something like that. The only thing he needed to do be thinking about was finding a way to free himself from these ropes.
Tugging on the ropes again, he shifted his weight. As he did so, the table creaked and an idea began to form in his head.
Mark was in the attic, standing in front of a large mirror that had been covered by a dustsheet. He hadn’t been much older than Ryan was now when he had first found it. Running his finger along the Latin inscription on the lead frame, he remembered how he had been strangely drawn to the dusty mirror hidden away in the corner of the attic all those years ago. There had been an argument with his parents over his performance at school, his behaviour and the sort of friends he had been hanging around with. Angry at constantly being compared to his eight-year-old brother, he had found himself in the attic sitting by the window and tomahawking his penknife at an old wooden crate. The side of the crate was scarred by dozens of knife slits, the frequent victim of his frustration and anger. Perhaps sensing his anger, a whispering in his mind had drawn him across the attic until he was kneeling in front of the mirror and reciting a phrase in Latin. Some would say that the fifteen-year-old’s mind had been corrupted by the demon lord’s whispers and promises of power; but Mark saw it as being liberated from having to lead a mundane life.
So here he was all these years later, in front of the same mirror. He spoke the Latin phrase, this time without hesitation, and waited as the surface of the mirror began to bubble; flames of liquid mirror glass lapping at the sides of the frame. Soon, a familiar demonic face began to form in the rippling surface.
“So, the spell worked,” Azarin said, the demon’s voice distorted as if speaking underwater.
Mark folded his arms and raised an eyebrow. “You had doubts?”
Azarin grunted, “Frankly, considering your past performance, I was expecting you to have fried your own brain casting that spell.”
“Well,” Mark said sounding slightly put out, “your lack of confidence notwithstanding, I’ve got everything under control. Ryan is currently downstairs tied to a table and ready for the ritual.” He held up his hand, forestalling Azarin’s expected interruption. “Yes, I know that I don’t need to repeat the ritual, his soul still being pledged and all that, but I hate leaving anything unfinished.”
“If you had just done your job properly with your brother in the first place, instead of fucking around with him, then you wouldn’t be in this mess,” Azarin said harshly.
Mark didn’t seem to hear him; there was a gleam in his eyes as he continued. “Unlike last time, mum and dad will get to watch me gut the little fucker before I kill them.” If Azarin’s image had arms, they would have been folded in disgust as Mark described in intimate detail what he had planned. Puns aside, Azarin knew that he was no angel. Far from it, he had done some truly despicable things in service to his Lord; he had even enjoyed some of it. Yet he had never taken as much pleasure as the human before him in the torture and murder of innocents. Mark’s fantasy was interrupted by an almighty crash from downstairs. He jumped to his feet, looking over towards the ladder. “What the hell was that?”
“That?” Azarin said wryly. “That would be the sound of your habitual incompetence striking again.”
Downstairs in the kitchen, Ryan picked himself up of the floor. By shifting his weight and rocking back, the old table had creaked and groaned until finally the legs on one side collapsed releasing one of his leg and one of his hands. Wasting no time, Ryan quickly freed his other hand and leg and clambered to his feet. There was a thump from above, the sound of someone jumping down from the attic onto the first floor landing. It had to be Mark; there was no one else it could be. Quickly Ryan ran to the back door, fumbling with the lock and wrenching the door open as he heard the pounding footsteps of someone running down the stairs. However, the boy didn’t run out into the night, instead of trying to escape, he ran towards the door that led into the kitchen from the hallway. He couldn’t run away, not with his sister still in the house, he couldn’t just leave her alone with Mark. Ryan hid behind the door, crouching down and making himself as small as possible.
With a crash, Mark kicked the door open and burst in to the room. Concealed behind the now open door, Ryan quickly grasped the door handle to prevent the door from rebounding closed. “Shit, he’s gone!” He heard his brother curse as he ran outside. Waiting until he was sure that Mark was gone, Ryan slipped out from his hiding place and ran upstairs. At the back of his mind since he had woken up, there had been a fear in the back of his mind that he had refused to dwell on. He had been unconscious for over two hours, leaving Sarah alone in with his brother. There was no telling what Mark could have done to her in that time. As he ran up the stairs, every terrible possibility ran through his mind. However, as he threw open the door to Sarah’s bedroom, all those fears turned out to be groundless when he saw his sister sleeping peacefully in her bed.
Sarah woke up as Ryan lifted her out of the bed. “Shh, it’s okay, mum and dad just want us to go next door to the Wilson’s for a bit.” With her harms wrapped around his neck, Ryan gently cradled the little girl against him, her head resting against his shoulder.
“You’re face is all sticky,” Sarah said sleepily. At first, Ryan was confused, but then he realised that she was talking about the blood that was still on his face and clothes. He couldn’t think of anything he could say to explain its presence to the three-year-old, so he left her comment unanswered as he carried her down the stairs to the front door. Glancing over his shoulder towards the kitchen as he reached the bottom of the stairs, Ryan reached over and opened the front door.
“Didn’t think you could get away that easily did you?” Mark growled as he stood outside barring the way. Ryan backed away from the door, holding Sarah tightly. His eyes flicked between the knife that Mark has holding and the murderous look in his older brother’s eyes.
“Mark,” Ryan asked desperately, “why are you doing this?”
Mark smiled as he advanced forward, relishing his brother’s fear. As he stepped into the hallway, the front door slammed shut on its own, the door chain rising and locking into place as if lifted by an invisible hand. The chain briefly glowed red as the individual links fused together and melded with the metal catch on the door. A wisp of smoke drifted from the side of the door where the locking mechanism was located, the wood around it become blackened and warped. At the same time, the doors into the living room and kitchen also slammed shut. “Why? Because I can.”
The look on Mark’s eyes, the knife that looked so familiar even though Ryan had never seen it before, the doors closing on their own; all of it was too much for the young boy and his courage broke. He bolted back up the stairs, the sudden burst of speed startling Mark. Ryan raced into his room, dropping Sarah onto his bed and turning to lock the bedroom door and push the chest of drawers in front of it. His older brother was only seconds behind him and as soon as had he barricaded his door, Mark was pounding on it demanding to be let in.
Sarah was sniffling, her eyes red with confused tears. Even though she was young, she could tell that something was dreadfully wrong with her oldest brother, both from the sound of pure anger and hatred in Mark’s voice as he yelled through the door, and from the fear evident in Ryan’s eyes. Ryan picked Sarah up, attempting to comfort her by telling her that everything was going to be all right. However, the words sounded hollow even to him. He cursed himself for his stupidity; he should have run into his brother’s bedroom. Mark had a phone in there that he could have used to call for help.
There was a loud crack as the thin wood of the door splintered and cracked under the force of one of Mark’s blows. It would not hold for long under such an assault. Realising this, Ryan went over to his bedroom window, unlocked the security bolt and opened the window. Still holding his sister, Ryan climbed onto his desk and started to climb out of the window. Behind him, the door finally broke open and Mark forced his way into the room, leaping over Ryan’s bed and grabbing his brother by the hair. Ryan screamed as he was yanked back and he lost his grip on his sister, dropping her to the floor. He desperately twisted around to face Mark, his arm swinging out in a wild and uncoordinated punch. His attack was cut short and his cries silenced by sharp pain in the side of his stomach. The boy stumbled forward, falling against his brother who gripped the back of his hair tightly. Mark grunted as he thrust the knife into his brother’s abdomen a second and third time. He looked down at Ryan as the smaller boy collapsed against, held up only by Mark’s strong grip on him. Mark pulled back on Ryan’s hair, forcing the boy to look at him in the eye. As their eyes met, Ryan’s mouth quivered as he tried to muster enough strength to speak. Mark smiled cruelly, holding his brother against and leaned down, bringing his mouth close to Ryan’s ear.
“Just so you know,” Mark said, “all this is your fault.”
Using every ounce of strength he had left, Ryan managed to whisper one solitary word, “Please.” His voice was laced with pain, confusion and fear. Behind them, Sarah was screaming in terror. There was nothing he could do to stop Mark; the pain was too great, his strength was rapidly leaving his punctured body. Thin rivulets of blood dribbled from the corners of his mouth as he began to cough and splutter. Mark shoved the knife right up to the hilt in to Ryan’s chest. He gasped and forced out one last breathless cry of pain as he slumped to the floor, clutching his chest. He lay on the floor gasping for breath, his blood soaking into the carpet. It was getting difficult for him to breathe, his chest felt tight and there was a metallic taste in his mouth. Ryan could feel his strength draining away, along with his blood, and his vision was beginning to fade. He felt cold, so very cold, yet strangely, he no longer felt any pain.
Looking down at his younger brother, Mark watched as the boy’s eyes slowly closed and his movements ceased. Satisfied that his brother was either dead or soon would be, he turned his back on Ryan and faced his sister. Sarah was rooted to the spot in terror, tears streaming silently down her face. Mark reached down and grabbed Sarah by the front of her bedclothes, lifting her up and sitting her on the edge of the desk. She started crying again, bawling loudly and calling out for mum, dad and Ryan. “Heh, they can’t help you,” Mark said holding the knife in front of her terrified face, “and don’t bother calling for your brother, it’s too late for him.”
The sound of his sister’s voice calling out his name broke through the blackness, pulling Ryan back from the brink. Suddenly, images began to appear in his mind, flashing rapidly in sequence. Memories of events that could not possibly have happened. Seeing his parents butchered in front of him, escaping a burning house, being sent to one uncaring foster home after another, always looking over his shoulder, crying himself to sleep after being bullied at school and ignored by his foster parents, moving to a small town on the coast, meeting the Johnson’s and Trey for the first time, making friends for the first time in years. Four years worth of memories from a different life, but the strongest of all were the ones of him risking his life repeatedly for everyone that had come to matter to him. In an instant, he remembered every detail of his previous life; what his brother had done to him and their parents. He didn’t know what was going on, or how he could have memories of two separate lives, he just knew that he wasn’t going to let Mark do it all over again. That thought, and the anger behind it, gave him the strength he needed to force his eyes open. His hand reached out to the side of him, its fingers grasping the shaft of his old hockey stick that was under the bed. Using it as a crutch, he slowly got to his feet and faced his brother’s back.
Oblivious to his brother’s actions, Mark held Sarah tightly, wondering how to kill her. “GET AWAY FROM HER!” Ryan’s screamed from behind. Mark span around and was struck in the face by the blade of the hockey stick, the brightly coloured plastic shattering on impact. Thrown aside by the force of the strike, Mark stumbled over a chair and crashed to the floor, the knife falling out of his hand. With all of his strength, Ryan span the hockey stick around, bringing it down across Mark’s back. Mark grunted as it struck him, still dazed from the earlier blow. He raised the stick again and it whistled as it sliced through the air. This time it struck Mark in the groin, eliciting a howl of pain and causing white stars to flash across his vision. Dropping the stick, Ryan quickly picked up his sister and staggered out of the bedroom.
It took nearly a minute for Mark to regain enough of his wits to pick up the knife and pull himself up off the floor, groaning as he did so.
“I’ve got everything under control,” Azarin mocked, his face appearing in the reflective screen of Ryan’s portable TV. “There are no words in any human language that convey the full depth and breadth of your incompetence. What sort of fool fails twice at killing a defenceless human child?”
“Shut it,” Mark snarled picking up a photo frame from the desk and hurled it at the TV. The frame cracked as the screen shattered and the photo, a picture of a younger Ryan flanked by his brother and father, all of them decked out in paintballing gear, fluttered to the floor. “I’M GOING TEAR YOUR FUCKING HEAD OFF RYAN!” He yelled as he ran out of the room, leaving a bloody boot print on the photo as he ran. At the bottom of the stairs, he found smears of blood on the front door where Ryan had tried and failed to open it. Looking around, Mark noticed a trail of blood on the carpet leading into the kitchen and out of the back door. There was a lot of it Mark realised; Ryan must be bleeding quite heavily. There was another smear of blood by the open back gate.
Ryan nearly stumbled several times as he ran down the dirt path. He was acting on pure instinct and adrenaline; and he was rapidly running out of the latter. The path ran across the meadows behind the house until it met the dual carriageway. There, he hoped, he would be able to flag down some help. If not, the police station was not far from the carriageway. He didn’t feel comfortable until he reached the tree-lined embankment and looked down at the well-lit road.
“Get back here you little shit!” He heard Mark yell from behind. Turning, he saw his brother running down the path towards them, the bloodstained knife still in his hands. Ryan didn’t answer; he turned and skidded down the embankment through the trees and onto the road. Legs pumping, he ran as fast as he could across the tarmac. Mark reached the top of the embankment and ran down the slope at speed. He erupted through the trees just a few meters behind Ryan. His eyes were focused on his brother’s back and he smiled. With his injuries, Ryan would never be able to outrun him. Too late, Mark noticed the glare of rapidly approaching headlights. The lorry slammed into him at nearly 50 miles per hour.
The blaring of the horn and the screeching of the tyres was deafening; Ryan turned involuntary and looked towards the source of the noise. Mark was lying by the side of the road, a mangled and bloody mess. His sightless eyes were still fixed on Ryan. At the sight of his brother’s dead body, the last of Ryan’s strength faded and he collapsed against the central reservation, overcome by a wave of sudden exhaustion. He looked over at Sarah and smiled. “It’s alright,” he whispered, “you’re safe now.” Unable to stay upright any longer, he slumped to the floor, lying on his side. As his eyes closed, a stray thought entered his mind. “I wonder if this is how mum and dad felt.”
“Hey there sleepy head,” Susan said as Ryan woke up, “you had us worried there for a while.” She put the magazine that she had been reading down and moved over to the side of his bed. “You’re in hospital,” she said as she saw the confused look on the boy’s face, “you took ill while at school and you had to go to hospital.” However, Ryan wasn’t confused about waking up in a strange place like she thought. Had everything he had experienced been nothing more than a fever-induced dream? No, he didn’t know how, but something told him that it hadn’t been a dream. That something deeper had been going on.
His illness subsided as quickly as it had appeared, leaving the doctors none the wiser as to its origins. They kept him in overnight for a few more tests, but by the next morning, there was no reason for him to stay so he was released. Returning home was strange. That evening, his friends paid him a visit after school bringing him up to speed with what he had happened at school, even though he had only missed a day and a half. Boris had been suspended from school, and word had that he was out to get Ryan. He’d been completely humiliated in front of half the school; the fact that Ryan had been ill when he had beaten Boris had made the humiliation even worse. Jake told him that he could expect a little more respect around school when he returned, few had people ever stood up to Boris before. “And lived to tell about it,” Jake added laughing. Ryan managed a weak laugh in response.
It felt good having his friends over, but always at the back of his mind was what had happened whilst he had been suffering from the “fever.” Once they had gone, he got the cordless phone from downstairs and went back to his bedroom. Making sure that Trey was still downstairs helping Anthony set the table for dinner; he retrieved a small piece of paper from inside one of his textbooks and dialled the number written on it. “Daniel, its Ryan. I need to talk.”