Category Archives: Ryan's Story
Four years ago, Ryan’s brother tried to ritually murder his family. Ryan survived, his parents didn’t. The incident scarred the ten-year-old, physically as well as mentally. Even now, he’s yet to come to terms with his brother’s betrayal but he knows one thing. Mark is still out there and he was never the type to leave a job unfinished.
Now fourteen and living with foster parents in the Cornish seaside town of Cliffport, Ryan’s time is beginning to run out. He is determined to maintain a low-profile avoid any unwanted attention, perferring the safe anonymity of being the “freaky emo kid that sits at the back of the class”. But, a random accident reveals to him the true nature of his brother’s crimes and gives him a hint as to the dangers he may soon face. Not all of them human.
Well, it seems to have been a busy month. Uploaded three chapters, each for a different story.
An Unlikely Hero has been a pleasant surprise for me. So far it’s turned out quite well and the latest chapter (Chapter Four) has really advanced the plot. In fact this was the chapter in which I really worked out what the plot was going to be. When I first started writing AUH, all I had was in my head was the image of the main character being brutally killed in the first chapter yet somehow miraculously coming back to life.
Chapter Six has been a long time coming. The last chapter was posted way back in August of last year. I got pretty bad writer’s block at the start of the chapter. I knew that Trace (the main character) was going to save the day, I also knew that there was no way he could take out Dorga and his goons in combat. Unless of course it was in an extended “Home-Alone” style guerilla campaign. In hindsight that would have been kinda cool but would’ve taken ages to write. This chapter also revealed the final bits and pieces of the kid’s backstory and exactly what the relationship between him and Dorga was.
After taking a break to write four chapters of AUH, I returned to RS with The Tattoo. I’m glad to return to this story, as its the longest I’ve every written and there’s still so much I want to write. I really want to finish this some day. This particular chapter pretty much has nothing to do with the plot of the story, so it could be seen as filler. It does however ramp up the tension between Ryan and Boris.
These two almost came to blows in this chapter and only the timely arrival of Daniel prevented a knife fight from breaking out. This chapter also introduced Bucky. A last minuted inclusion, I never intended to introduce a dog but somehow, that section just wrote itself. Bucky is in fact the dog owned by my Mutants and Masterminds character, Jared Sanchez. Ryan’s little joke about the reason behind Bucky’s name is painful in origin, as it was originally the reason why I called my character’s dog Bucky in the M&M game. I pretty much got the same reaction from the GM and other players as Ryan did. As I said, its painful.
Exams are starting this week in programming and computing, as long as I don’t freeze up they should be a cake walk. Maths next week I’m less confident about.
The wind whipped at the sea, sending bursts of spray up onto the cliff-side path. Ryan pulled his coat tight trying to ward off the cold wind. He was supposed to be revising for his SATS exams that started on Monday but he had needed to get some fresh air after being cooped up in the house ever since getting out of hospital earlier in the week. That was what he had told Susan and Anthony, making up some story about having to return a library book in order to explain why he was taking his backpack with him. The truth was that Daniel had answered the message that Ryan had left on his voicemail, phoning him on Friday night to arrange a meeting. So here he was on a cold and windy Saturday morning, making his way towards the old lighthouse.
The lighthouse was on old granite and brick structure, constructed in the 18th century. It had served the small fishing port well into the 19th century until it was replaced by a sturdier structure out by the breakwater. That one itself was replaced by an automated electric lighthouse in the 1970’s. The original lighthouse remained as a local landmark, perched on a small plateau by the cliffs. As tourism had increased and started to replace Cliffport’s fishing fleet as the main source of employment, the lighthouse had become something of a tourist attraction. However, the Great Storm of ’87 almost put an end to that. The hurricane strength winds of that October night sheared the top off the structure; sending granite blocks, metal and glass tumbling into the raging sea below. All that was left was the hollow shell of the bottom half propped up from the inside by a latticework of supports. Shortly after coming to Cliffport, Ryan had noticed the sign outside the local church hall showing the total funds raised for the lighthouse’s restoration, a total that hadn’t seemed to have moved since the sign was put up two decades earlier.
As Ryan got to the end of the path leading up to the lighthouse, he heard the sound of barking from the path behind him. He turned and saw a small dog running up the path towards him. Ryan involuntarily took a step back as it ran up to him, its wild eyes startling him and reminding him for a brief second of the spectral hound that he had encountered nearly a month and a half ago. The dog ran around behind him and stopped, crouched on the floor whimpering. He was no expert, but even he could tell that the dog, an Alsatian crossbreed, was terrified of something. “What’s the matter boy?” Ryan asked as he stroked the dog’s fur gently. It’s black and brown coat was dirty and he wasn’t wearing a collar; Ryan guessed it was a stray. The dog perked up slightly as he spoke to it but shrank back down as Ryan heard voices down the path.
Boris and two other boys from school ran around the corner red faced and out of breath. The two boys were both carrying cricket bats, but Boris was armed with a knife. When the older boy saw Ryan standing in front of the cowering dog, he smiled. “Hey boys, looks like the mongrel’s found us another stray to play with.” Boris friends laughed as they spread themselves out in front of Ryan in a semi-circle.
Ryan’s eyes narrowed, having to deal with Boris was the last thing he wanted. “What’s the matter, bullying little kids at school not enough for you so you’ve decided to pick on defenceless animals now?”
“You and me, we got unfinished business,” Boris said glancing at his friends and waving his knife in Ryan’s direction. “But tell you what, give us the mutt and maybe we’ll let you walk out of this without breaking your legs.” His offer was greeted by derisive laughter by the other boys; Ryan had no illusion that the offer was genuine. He looked down at the dog behind him. Even if the offer had been genuine, he wasn’t about to hand the dog over to a bunch of thugs for them to torture.
“If you want this dog,” Ryan said surprising himself with how confident he sounded, “then you’ll have to come through me.” There was a glint in Boris’s eyes as he said this. Ryan realised that he’d probably made a huge mistake, the last thing he should have done is challenge Boris in front of his friends. The thug already had it in for him and after what had happened at school, he probably felt the need to prove himself. However, right at that moment, he was reminded of what he had said to Jake two months ago, “I ‘aint taking shit from any of you anymore.” He had meant what he had said back then, all those years of being someone’s punching bag were over. Even if it meant taking a beating, there was no way he was going to let this third-rate thug push him around
“You think I got a problem doing that retard?” Boris said as his friends laughed, “I mean, I heard you were a dumb shit but three against one, I thought even you’d be smarter than that.”
“I’ve taken on three knife-wielding thugs before and I still kicked their asses,” Ryan said cockily. He was also exaggerating slightly, only two of them had been armed and only one of them had actually been carrying a knife. “And the last time we fought Boris, I was half-zonked out by a stomach bug but I was still strong enough to put you on the floor.” The thug tightened his grip on the knife, silently fuming as Ryan spoke. Ryan reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the flick knife. He took a step forward and extended the blade. “Let me tell you something, three to one odds don’t mean that you outnumber me, it just means that I’ve got a target-rich environment.”
Boris’s body tensed, readying itself to charge forward and attack but was stopped when a new voice made itself heard. “Make that three against two.” Everyone turned towards the source of the voice. Ryan grinned confidently as he saw Daniel standing in the doorway, picking at the dirt underneath a fingernail with one of his knives.
“Who the hell are you?” Boris barked as Daniel walked over to stand beside Ryan. Suddenly Ryan didn’t look like such an easy target and Boris’s friends looked a little less sure about themselves. They looked between themselves and their ringleader nervously.
“I’m someone who thinks children shouldn’t play with knives or gang up on those younger than them,” Daniel said quietly, drawing his other knife and twirling them around in an impressive display of skill and finesse. “Unlike you kids, I know how to use these weapons so I suggest you leave before I have to show you what a real knife fighter can do.”
“Hey Boris,” one of the thug’s friends called out, “we can always get him at school next week.” The two sides stared at each other across the dirt for several tense seconds until Boris huffed and stepped back, relaxing the grip on his knife. He looked at Ryan with a grin on his face, although his eyes were anything but friendly.
“See you on Monday morning Henderson,” Boris said calmly, “maybe you won’t be so cocky without your boyfriend around to protect you.” With that, the thug turned and left.
Ryan watched as the boys left, not relaxing his stance until Boris had turned the corner out of sight. He dropped down into a crouch, his arms resting on his knees and laughing nervously, releasing the tension that he was feeling. The dog stood up and walked over to Ryan’s side, nuzzling against his knee as its tail wagged. Without thinking about it, Ryan reached down and scratched the back of the dog’s head affectionately. “It’s okay little fella, that jerk’s gone now.” Ryan looked over at Daniel to say thanks but stopped when he saw the look on the man’s face as he looked down at him. It was a look of disappointment. “What?”
“So you’re carrying a knife now?” Daniel said as he tucked his knives back into a pair of holsters inside his jacket.
Ryan stood up and laughed. “You’re one to talk, you carry two of them; both of them bigger than my forearms.”
Daniel crossed his arms. “That’s different, I…”
“What,” Ryan interrupted, his expression hardening and his face assuming an adolescent pout, “I’m not allowed to defend myself? After everything I’ve been through the last two months, I reckon I deserve the right to carry some protection.”
As Ryan spoke, Daniel saw that there was a confidence in him that had not been there before. When he had first tracked Ryan down nearly a year ago, he’d been a lonely young boy, barely willing to raise a fist in his own defence. All traces of that boy were gone now and there was a fire within him, perhaps a dangerous one. Along with his newfound confidence and courage, there was a short temper and a reckless streak a mile wide. He realised that Ryan had stopped talking and an awkward pause had settled over the two. “You’ve changed.” He finally said.
Ryan’s mouth opened, ready to give an angry response. Before he did, the boy’s expression softened and he looked down at the ground. He walked over to nearby bench facing the cliff edge and sat down, staring at the knife in his hand. “I’ve had to,” he said quietly. Daniel came over to the bench and sat down next to him.
“I guess so; just don’t forget who you are inside.” He put a hand on Ryan’s shoulder in what he hoped was a reassuring gesture. “You said you needed to talk.” Taking a deep breath Ryan told about what he had experienced when he “fell ill.” Listening carefully, Daniel only interrupted Ryan when he needed the boy to clarify some detail or another. After Ryan had finished speaking, Daniel leaned back on the bench and looked out to sea. “So what makes you think what you saw wasn’t just a fever-induced hallucination.”
Ryan tried to explain but he struggled to find the right words. “I remember,” he said eventually after several failed attempts, “spending my twelfth birthday hiding under my bed and barricaded in my bedroom because my foster parents at the time had come home from the pub drunk, again. But I also remember spending it paintballing with Mark and my dad before going out for a family meal; two years after he was supposed to have killed them. Plus, ¿cómo diablos puedo hablar español si nunca me lo han enseñado?”
“You what?” Daniel asked, not speaking a word of Spanish.
“I said, ‘how the hell can I speak Spanish even though I’ve never taken any lessons in it?’. The only languages I’ve learned in school are French and a bit of German. It was the other me, the one from my ‘hallucination’ that did three years of Spanish in high school. I don’t know what’s real anymore!”
Daniel whistled, “Listen, you’re not going crazy if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Ryan looked at him desperately. “Then what the hell’s happening to me?” He was close to the breaking point; Daniel could see that from the look in the boy’s eyes. The eighteen-year-old stood and leaned against the railing, facing Ryan.
“It’s difficult to explain,” Daniel began, “but I’ll try.” Ryan had been the victim of a very old and very powerful curse; one that had a unique method of attack. It subdued the victim, making it appear they had taken ill and falling into a deep fever. Their consciousness would then be forced to experience a kind of alternate reality crafted by the caster. “What you experienced was real. It sounds like Mark trapped you in a world where the events of that night four years ago never happened. He used that to get close to you without you suspecting. You’d have no memory of your real life while under the effect of the curse; at least not until the magic started to decay. That’s probably why you have all these memories that aren’t yours.” Ryan looked down at the ground, his hands fiddling uneasily with the material of his jeans. “If he’d managed to kill you while you were ‘hallucinating’, then you would have gone in to a coma and died here.” But it didn’t make sense, Daniel thought to himself. There was no way that Ryan’s brother should have been able to cast this curse. He wasn’t nearly powerful enough and even if he were, he would have needed a foci in order to target Ryan. When he told this to Ryan, the boy looked up at him, the light of realisation in his eyes. He reached inside his backpack pulled out the old leather bound book. Flicked through the pages, he stopped when he reached one that had a crudely drawn picture of a red crystal.
“Would something like this work?” Ryan showed the book to Daniel.
“A Seer Stone? That could work, but they were all supposed to be lost or destroyed long ago. Where would he get…” Daniel stopped midsentence, Ryan suddenly had a very guilty look on his face. “What did you do?”
“I kinda gave him one?” Ryan admitted. “But I didn’t have much of a choice.” He went on to explain what had happened a month and a half ago to Trey. When he was finished, he closed his eyes and leaned his head back sighing. “You know, I hate to admit, but with the way he set everything up, Mark’s smarter than ever I gave him credit for.”
“Well, at least we know where he got the power from.” Daniel said sitting back down on the bench. “But he would still have needed a foci to target you. It’s usually something personal; either something of yours or something of his in your possession.”
Ryan’s mind was blank; he couldn’t think of anything that could be the foci. He hadn’t seen his brother in four years, and as far as he knew, everything he had owned back then had been lost in the fire. It was conceivable that Mark could have taken something before torching the house but Daniel told him it was unlikely that anything could have retained a strong enough psychic impression after all that time. “But if we can’t find it, what’s to stop Mark from using it to attack me again?”
Daniel looked at the boy, a mischievous grin beginning to form. “I have an idea. But it’ll probably land you in a heap of trouble.”
Ryan returned the smile. “What’ve I got to lose?”
It had taken them a couple of hours to drive from Cliffport to Newquay, a town on Cornwall’s northern coast. The drive had been quiet, with few words being exchanged between Daniel and Ryan. Daniel had joked as they walked from the old lighthouse to the car, the small dog Ryan had ‘rescued’ following close behind, that it looked like Ryan had made a new friend. The man had found it less funny when the dog jumped onto the back seat and no amount of cajoling would get him to get out. Eventually, he had given in and Ryan had climbed in the back. Ryan had spent most of the trip sitting in the back and looking out the passenger side window, lost in thought. The dog was sitting on the seat next to him, its head resting on his lap. Daniel broke the silence as they passed by the town of Bodmin, asking Ryan what he was thinking about. “I would give anything to be able to go back to that night and stop him.” He had said. “The one thing I’ve wanted more than anything is the chance to change what I … what happened that night. I miss all of them, even Mark. As much as I hate him, part of me misses the way we used to be. All the fun we used to have, the way he looked out for me. I guess I’ve always wanted to know what it would’ve been like if they hadn’t died. Now I know. But it’s a rough trade; the lives of Trey, Ben, Jake and Spud for my parents.” Daniel didn’t know what to say after Ryan had finished, so the rest of the trip was done in silence.
When they finally arrived at Newquay and pulled into a car park, Ryan paused as he got out of the car and watched the surfers a short distance away from the beach. “I’ve seen you on that skateboard of yours,” Daniel said noticing what Ryan was looking at, “you’d probably be pretty good on a surfboard.”
Ryan turned and looked at Daniel, his eyes narrowed in annoyance. “You know, this whole stalker thing you got going ‘aint exactly helping me ‘resolve my trust issues’ as Mrs Anders would say.”
“Who’s Mrs Anders?”
“Nobody you need to know about,” Ryan said shaking his head as the dog jumped out of the car. He was surprised; Daniel seemed to know everything else about him, which was disconcerting enough, but at least there was one thing he didn’t know, the name of his psychiatrist.
They walked away from the seafront, into the town. Taking several of the back streets, it didn’t long for Ryan to get thoroughly lost. Eventually they reached their destination, a small shop above a Chinese takeaway. Before he opened the door to the stair, Daniel turned to Ryan. “Are you sure you want to do this?” Ryan nodded and together the climbed up the stairs.
The shop was dark, dimly lit by small windows. A row of chairs was lined up against one wall facing the counter, like in a doctor’s waiting room. On each of the walls were pictures of tattoo designs; both illustrations and actual photo’s of tattoos on various people. In a glass cabinet behind the counter was a selection of ear and body piercings. “Hey, anyone home?” Daniel said leaning over the counter and yelling over the load music coming from the back room. The music was turned down and a man in his late-twenties came out of the back room. He was a large man, nearly six foot in height although some of his muscle had turned to flab through lack of exercise, ruining what otherwise would have been an impressive physique. The man glanced at Ryan dismissively as he entered the shop front before focusing his attention on Daniel. “So what can I do for you?”
“I’m looking for some help for my friend here,” Daniel said. The man glanced at Ryan a second time with an appraising eye before returning his attention to Daniel.
“Kids under 16 need a parent or legal guardian present before any piercing can be done,” the man said hitching his thumb over his shoulder towards a sign on the wall that said the same, “it’s not against the law but it is company policy.”
“That’s not what we’re here for…”
“No way,” the man interrupted, “tattooing a minor is against the law, and I’m not losing my license because some punk wants to join a gang.”
“Hey,” Ryan said indignantly before Daniel cut him off.
“Look mate, we’re not here for gang tags or something to impress girls. We’re here for one of these.” Daniel pulled a piece of paper out of his jacket pocket and showed it to the man. There was a symbol drawn on it, an inverted triangle with small arcs on each of the upper two points. Almost like part of a circle that would have surrounded the triangle connecting its three points. The arcs and the tip of the bottom point were drippy, almost like something dribbling downward from their points. When the man saw the picture, he nodded in understanding. “So you’re after a Protection Sigil?” Daniel nodded. “You sure this is what you want for the kid, tattoo’s are kinda permanent after all.”
“Hey,” Ryan said indignantly, “I’m standing right here you know.”
Ignoring the boy, the man haggled with Daniel over the price for a few minutes before eventually coming to an agreement. “Gear’s in the back,” he said beckoning for Daniel and Ryan to accompany him. As Ryan turned to follow, the man held out his hand stopping him. “Hey shrimp, flip over the closed sign and lock the door will you, we don’t want anyone coming in while I do this.” Muttering under his breath, he did as he was told. When he went into the back room, he saw the man placing a small stepping stool next to the tattoo chair in the centre of the room. Seeing Ryan enter the room, the man cracked his knuckles. “Now that we’re alone,” he said, “I can dispel this bloody enchantment.” The man’s hands quickly formed a series of symbols in front of him and Ryan watched as the man’s form seemed to collapse in on itself. As the man shrank, a dog-like muzzle transformed the profile of his face and hair sprouted from his body. Thankfully, his clothes shrank with him and fitted his new four-foot high body perfectly. Ryan glanced over at Daniel, unnerved by the man’s sudden transformation. If Daniel was concerned though, he wasn’t showing it. The man looked over at Ryan and pointed at the chair. “Well kid, you waiting for an invitation? Hop in.”
Ryan climbed up into the chair and couldn’t stop himself from giggling. “What’s so funny shrimp?”
“The big plan to stop my brother from cursing me again is getting a tattoo from an ewok!” Daniel smothered a snigger behind his hand.
“I’m not a ewok,” the man said indignantly, “I’m a pooka.”
“A pooka, a member of the fey race, from the goblin realm?” The man threw his hands up in frustration. “Don’t they teach human children anything anymore?”
Ryan was still giggling. “But you look…”
“I know, I know,” the man interrupted laughing slightly, “trust me, my people were howling for George Lucas’s blood long before he made those blasted prequels.”
Daniel cleared his throat. “While I’m sure this is very amusing to you two, can we get on with this? I don’t think I can stand any more of this Linkin Park crap.” He said referring to the music playing.
“It’s not Linkin Park…” the man began as he climbed on to the stool.
“It’s Amber Pacific.” Ryan finished for him.
The man punched Ryan playfully on the arm, “You’ve got taste kid, I like you.”
“All sounds like emo pop punk crap to me,” Daniel muttered under his breath.
Ryan couldn’t help but look at the tattoo as they drove through the Cornish countryside. It hadn’t taken the man long to do it, his hands blurring with supernatural speed as he tattooed the shoulder of Ryan’s left arm. He had expected it to hurt, after all the ink was being placed under the skin using a needle and he wasn’t exactly fond of needles to start off with, but it hadn’t hurt at all. In fact, he had barely felt the procedure. Daniel told had told him that the tattoo granted him protection from rituals like curses, hexes and scrying spells. The tattoo would make it almost impossible to target Ryan unless they had something of him to use in the ritual. Something like a strand of hair or a drop of blood. The tattoo would have little effect if a warlock tried to throw a lightning bolt or fireball at him however. Magic like that didn’t need to targeted, just cast in the right direction. Despite the added protection the tattoo provided, Ryan didn’t feel any different. He had to take Daniel’s word that the tattoo was worth it.
“Have thought about what you’re going to tell your foster parents?” Daniel asked Ryan as he rolled his sleeve back down his arm.
“When I first came to live with Sue and Anthony, they sat me down in the kitchen and laid down the ground rules. No alcohol, no drugs, especially no smoking around the house. They were particularly insistent on that one,” Ryan said smiling at the memory. “Be home before curfew, you know, the usual stuff. They never said anything about not getting a tattoo.” As he said this, he noticed Daniel glancing at him and seeing the expression on the older boy’s face, he laughed. “I know, I know, I can’t use that as an excuse. I’ll have to think of something, but I don’t want to lie to them. They’ve been real good to me.”
The small dog sitting on Ryan’s lap yawned contentedly. “You keeping him or what,” Daniel asked nodding towards the dog.
Ryan looked down at the dog who looked back up at him expectantly. “I always wanted a dog when I was little, just need to think up a name for him.” The dog sat up and started licking Ryan’s face, causing the boy to giggle. “Now I’ve got to figure out a way for them to let me keep you.”
That evening, after checking that Sue and Anthony were in the living room watching TV, Ryan quietly crept out of the back door and headed to the garden shed. He had gotten home earlier that afternoon and, not knowing what to say to his foster parents, Ryan made sure the tattoo remained hidden under the sleeve of his t-shirt during dinner. When evening had started to close in, he couldn’t wait any longer and decided to chance a visit to the shed. Carrying a small bundle wrapped in a blanket, he quickly walked across the garden and opened the shed door.
As soon as he opened the the dog leapt at him, yipping happily. “Quiet down boy, you don’t want the others to hear.” Ryan unwrapped the bundle to reveal a pair of small bowls from the kitchen, a plastic bottle filled with tap water, a can of dog food he had bought from a shop on the way home and a small squeaky ball. The dog ran around his legs excitedly as he filled one of the bowls with water and emptied the can into the other. Ryan smiled as the dog greedily gobbled up the food. “You’ve got my table manners, that’s for sure.”
The dog looked up, as if distracted by something. There was a creak from the window and Ryan turned around to see Trey looking in through the dirty glass. Their eyes met and Trey grinned sheepishly. Realising that he had been rumbled, he motioned for Trey to come in. The younger boy came in and sat down next to Ryan. Cautiously at first, the dog padded over to Trey and sniffed at him. Apparently deciding that he liked him, the dog licked at Trey’s outspread hand. “What’s his name?”
“Bucky,” Ryan said picking up the ball, “and this is his ball.” He squeezed the ball and laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“Bucky’s ball? Buckyball? Geddit?” Trey looked at him blankly. “Carbon 60 is one of the hardest substances known to science. It’s better known as buckminsterfullerene and its most common form is a spherical molecule called a bucky ball.” The younger boy still wasn’t laughing. Now that he had said it aloud, it wasn’t as funny as he had first thought. In fact, it sounded a little sad, a little geeky.
“Where did you get him?”
“He found me,” Ryan said, “up by the lighthouse. Boris and some of his jerk friends were torturing the poor thing.”
“Do you think he belongs to anyone?” The dog seemed completely comfortable around the younger boy now, as it sat on his lap while Trey stroked him.
Ryan shrugged. “No, I think he’s a stray.”
“Kinda like us then,” Trey said looking over at Ryan. The two boys sat in the shed, lit by an electric lamp, laughing, talking and playing with Bucky. Neither of them realised how late it was getting until the shed door was opened and their foster father looked inside.
“We were starting to wonder where you two had got too,” he said. Then he saw Bucky sitting between Ryan and Trey. “Where did that come from?”
Ryan and Trey looked at each other, at first neither of them saying anything. Ryan opened his mouth to say something but was beaten to the punch by Trey who picked up Bucky and went over to Anthony. “His name’s Bucky, he’s a stray and he’s got nowhere to go,” Trey said holding Bucky tightly, “can we keep him, pleeease?”
Anthony looked down at Trey. He tried to look stern, but Ryan could see the corner of his mouth curling upwards as he barely concealed a smile. “Trey Bennett, are you trying to give me the puppy dog eyes routine?”
“Maybe,” Trey said slowly, “is it working?”
“How did you get so manipulative?” Anthony asked.
“He’s twelve,” Ryan answered causing Anthony to laugh and Trey to scowl.
“Having a pet isn’t like getting a new computer game or toy,” Anthony said carefully, “it’s not something you can just abandon when you get bored.”
“Is that a no?” Trey asked at the same time as Ryan asked “Is that a yes?”
“It’s a big responsibility, and it’s something that we’d have to talk to Susan about. But for the time being, you’d better bring him inside; it’s going to be very cold tonight.”
“Yes!” Ryan and Trey cheered at the same time, high-fiving each other. Anthony told Trey to take Bucky inside as Ryan picked up the bowls, blanket and ball. As he turned to follow Trey, Anthony put an arm across the doorway, barring his exit.
“Don’t think we haven’t noticed that … thing on your arm,” Anthony said as he lifted up the sleeve of Ryan’s t-shirt, “Tomorrow, we’re going to have a little talk about the sort of behaviour that is and isn’t appropriate for a fourteen-year-old. But for now, I think it’s an early night for you.”
Sam Marshall knocked on his son’s bedroom door. When there was no answer, he opened the door and stepped inside. His son was sitting at his desk with his back to the door, the room illuminated only by the single desk lamp. It was no wonder that his son hadn’t heard him; he was concentrating hard on the textbook in front of him, loud music leaking out from the oversized headphones he was wearing that were connected to a small laptop. The professor smiled, he was studying no doubt for his big test tomorrow. He looked around his son’s bedroom, almost every wall surface except that directly above the desk was covered in posters. All of them of various superheroes and super-teams; there were posters of the various members of Alpha Force along one wall, the world’s premier super team; on another wall was a poster for the recently formed EU sponsored team, EuroForce; a poster signed by the leader of the UN Overwatch team took pride of place above his bed; and there were posters for lesser known teams such as Legion and the Army of Light as well as independent heroes such as Defender, Upload and Rescue. His son, Sam had to admit, was a bit of a superhero fanboy. But then so were many thirteen-year-old boys. Looking slightly out of place above his desk was a wall chart calendar. Tomorrow was ringed in red marker with “Big Test, Do Not Fail” written next to it. He reached over to the light switch and flicked the light on and off again to get his son’s attention.
The boy jumped, startled out of his concentration by the flashing of the lights. He turned around looking for the source of the flashing and saw his dad standing in the doorway. “Hey dad,” the boy said taking the headphones off.
“It’s eleven o’clock Todd, time for bed.”
“Aww dad,” the boy pouted, “but I really need to learn this stuff for tomorrow.” Sam walked over to his son and looked down at the textbook he had been studying.
“Algebra,” he whistled, “tough subject.”
“Not for you,” Todd muttered under his breath. His father pretended not to hear him, over recent months his son had become increasingly bitter over his poor academic performance. Sam had decided to give his son some space, the last thing he needed was his father hovering over him pressuring him “to study hard and do well”. Encouragement or platitudes only seemed to anger him further.
“Okay,” Sam said relenting. He ruffled his son’s blond hair before he left, an act that he knew Todd publically hated but secretly liked. “But even your uncle needs a good night’s sleep,” he said nodding over at the poster of Overwatch. Stopping at the door, he turned and looked back. “Don’t overdo it son, see you in the morning.”
“I won’t, night dad,” Todd said turning back to the desk and putting his headphones back on.
Sam smiled sadly as he closed the bedroom door. “He tries so hard,” he thought as he walked downstairs and into the study.
Todd pinched the brow of his nose in annoyance as he stared at the book on the desk in front of him. It wasn’t going in; the harder he tried the less he seemed to understand it. He ripped the page out of his notebook, screwed it up and threw another page of incorrect revision answers across the room. “Stupid stupid stupid,” he muttered repeatedly, thumping the side of his head with the heel of his hand.
He knew his inability to do well in school wasn’t his fault, not really. When he had just been an infant, he’d been in a car crash. His parent’s car had been hit by a drunk driver, one of those random accidents that no amount of superheroes could prevent. His father had escaped without injury but Todd and his mother had not been so lucky. The other car had smashed in the passenger side of his parent’s car and his mother, who had been sitting in the passenger seat and had taken the full force of the impact, had been killed instantly. Todd had been in a baby seat in the back and had been trapped in the twisted metal wreckage until they could cut him out. He had suffered a serious head injury in the crash and for a while, they had thought he might die. But he didn’t, eventually he pulled through. Although he’d been left with a small and nearly invisible scar above his left eye, the real lasting damage had been much more insidious and didn’t show up properly until he started school. After several “incidents”, Todd had been diagnosed with a number of behavioural problems and learning disabilities, all of them stemming from the brain injury he had suffered as an infant.
All his life he had been held back by those problems; dismissed at school as a disruptive and academically poor student. His father was a genius, gifted at science and engineering. To the rest of the world, Sam Marshall was just a simple scientist who worked at a university on cutting edge research; but a handful of people, including his son, knew the truth. He worked with superheroes, designing their equipment, analysing devices captured from supervillains and acted as a consultant with the UN Overwatch in regards to off-world technology. Todd’s father was one of the smartest people on the planet. His son, on the other hand, was a moron. Todd could tell by the way that his father had started to ignore him, throwing himself into his work and ceasing to encourage him, that he was disappointed in his son and that he had given up. That hurt more than anything and that was why Todd was determined to do well on the test tomorrow. He had to prove to his father that he wasn’t just some dumb kid and a lost cause.
He flipped the textbook to the start of the chapter. Picking up his pencil, he yawned and began the revision exercises again. He didn’t get very far however, within ten minutes he was slumped forward on the desk, sound asleep.
In the shadows behind the house, the air shimmered and three men materialised out of nothingness. They were all dressed in identical black body armour and were carrying mean looking submachine guns. If it weren’t for their high tech breathing masks and wrist-mounted stun blasters the men would like average members of a SWAT team. The leader of the three men pulled out a small scanner and pointed it at the house. “I’m picking up two life signs,” he said to the other two men, “the larger one downstairs is most likely Professor Marshall, and the smaller one upstairs will be his son.” The men readied their weapons and moved towards the house.
The lock on the back door was easily bypassed and the three men entered the house silently. Reaching the hallway, the leader motioned towards the stairs and the smaller of his two men started up them while the other followed the leader towards the study door. Creeping silently up the stairs, the man moved across the landing towards one of the bedroom doors. Light was leaking out from under it and the man looked at the sign fixed on the door that said “Keep Out: Level 4 Biohazard.” Beneath the mask, he smiled a thin smile as he opened the door slowly, his gun ready. He saw the boy slumped forward on his desk, his head resting in his folded arms and fast asleep. The boy didn’t hear the shouts from downstairs as he slept with his headphones on, no amount of noise would break through the loud music playing. This wasn’t what he had signed up for; no one told him that one of the targets was just a child. The man had his orders however and he was committed to the cause, but nonetheless he hesitated as he raised his gun.
“What do you want?” Sam asked the man pointing the gun at him. He had been just about to call it a night and turn in when the two men had burst into his study. Panicked, he had managed to shout out a desperate warning to his son before the leader of the two men had shot a blue bolt of energy from a wrist-mounted weapon at him. As he had fallen to the floor stunned, he prayed that Todd had heard him. Even if he hadn’t, he took comfort in the fact that Baxter, the computer system that he had designed to run the house, was probably already alerting the authorities to the situation.
“My boss wants you to deliver a message,” the leader said as his follower kept an SMG trained on Sam.
“What sort of message?” Before the leader could respond, there was a commotion as Todd was shoved roughly into the room, tripping over the rug.
“Get up!” Yelled the man who pushed Todd into the room, kicking the boy in the side and pulling him to his feet by the hair.
Sam took a step towards his son but was stopped by the barrel of an SMG prodding into his chest. “Leave him alone,” he yelled as Todd was shoved against the wall on the other side of the room and held at gunpoint, “don’t hurt him, please.” Todd looked across the room at him, absolute terror evident in his eyes. Blood was dribbling from cut on the side of his head and his cheek was starting to swell up from where he had been struck by the barrel of a gun. He was too scared to move, too scared to resist, too scared even to call out.
“Well, now that we’re all here I guess we can get this over and done with.” The leader reached into a pouch on his vest, pulled out a DVD, and tossed it to Sam. “Give that to Paragon; I know you know how to get in contact with him.”
“What’s on it?” Sam asked, wondering how much the man knew about him and Paragon, the leader of Overwatch.
From behind the mask, the leader smiled. “The general gist of it is this; next time it will be his kid.” He waited just long enough for the words to sink in before turning to the man pointing the gun at Todd and nodding.
As Sam watched in horror, the man opened fire. Todd didn’t even have time to scream as the bullets tore into his unprotected body. He crashed to the floor, the wall behind him splattered with his blood. Crying out, Sam ran across the room and pushed his way past the armed men. “Oh God no!” He cradled his son, holding him close as the men slipped quietly out of the room. Their job done, they had no wish to stick around.
“Dad,” Todd said, coughing up blood and gasping for air.
“Shhh, everything’s going to be alright.” He was lying; it wasn’t going to be all right. The blood was everywhere; the pool on the floor beneath his son was growing larger by the second. Todd had over a dozen gunshot wounds perforating his body and only had minutes to live before he bled to death. He realised that his son was going to die in his arms and that there was nothing he could do.
Todd looked up at his father’s distraught face and instantly knew the truth. He was dying. The pain came in waves, great tsunami’s of agony that threatened to overwhelm him. He could feel himself getting weaker, slipping away. Already it was a fight just to breathe and keep his eyes open for just a few seconds more.
As he helplessly watched his son die, it suddenly hit him that there may be something he could do after all. “Please, just hang on a little while longer.”
Managing a half-smile, Todd tried to say “I’ll try” but could only cough up more blood.
“Baxter,” Sam said loudly as he picked Todd up gently “power up the lab.”
Sam carried Todd out of the study and across the hallway to a door that opened with a hiss as he approached. The door led to a stairway the led down to the basement lab where most of his “special” work was conducted. Entering the lab, various computer systems and scientific devices booted up and the lights came on, illuminating the crisp and clean surfaces with a soft white glow. “Lab systems are at 100% Doctor,” an electronic voice said from an overhead speaker, “emergency services have been notified. I took the liberty of alerting Overwatch. Estimated time of arrival, 7 minutes.”
“They’ll never get here in time,” Sam muttered as he laid Todd down on one of the workbenches, placing his folded up sweater beneath the boy’s head. “Just hold on.” He ran over to the large fume hood that stood against one wall. Suspended inside the apparatus by a series of energy beams was a silver capsule and the focus of his current research project. The project was for Overwatch and involved a piece of off-world technology recovered from a derelict alien spaceship found in orbit by NASA. It had taken weeks of research to uncover its purpose and Sam believed that was an advanced piece of nanotechnology. If he was right, then its purpose was medical in nature, a species-neutral technology designed to help speed up the healing process. “Drop the containment field and unlock the fume hood Baxter.”
There was a noticeable pause before the computer responded. “Sir, Overwatch demanded Level 4 Biohazard protocols when dealing with the nanobots.”
“I don’t care,” Sam snapped, “drop the blasted field!” There was a clunk as the locking mechanism disengaged and a red warning light started to blink. Sam lifted up the hood and reached inside, grabbing the canister.
“I will have to notify Overwatch over the breech of containment protocols.” Sam ignored the computer as he rooted through several drawers looking for a hypospray. He ripped it out of its sterile packaging and began to siphon off some of the alien nanobots, a silvery-grey solution filling the hypospray’s glass vial. “Sir, the nanobots are years away from human trials.”
“Todd doesn’t have years, he has minutes!”
Todd didn’t hear the conversation between his father and the house computer. A great coldness was beginning to spread through him and he felt so tired. His vision was blurring and everything was starting to swim around him, as if he was spinning on a roundabout. Todd wondered why it was so dark in the lab, why didn’t his dad put the lights on? He knew that any moment now, his eyes would close; probably for the last time. It was at that point that something moved into his field of vision. It was a woman with a kind face and long blond hair. She was surrounded by a luminous glow. As she looked down at him gently stoking his hair, he saw that she had blue eyes just like him. “It’s okay Toddy,” she said softly, “it won’t hurt for much longer.” The woman faded from view as his father returned to the workbench, hypospray in hand.
“This’ll feel a little strange at first,” Sam said, his voice breaking, “but it’ll make you feel better.” He pressed the hypospray to Todd’s neck and pressed the trigger, watching as a silvery sheen spread from the contact point for a few seconds before vanishing. Sam prayed that it would work. There was no reaction at first, and then Todd’s body twitched and began to convulse, arching and writhing. Sam held on to him but within a few seconds the convulsions had stopped. There was a sigh as Todd breathed out and his chest stilled, his eyes staring lifelessly at the ceiling. “Nononononono,” Sam cried. He began CPR, desperately trying to breathe life back into the body, not wanting to accept that it was already too late. For several minutes he tried in vain before Baxter spoke softly.
“Sir … Sam … I’m sorry, I’m detecting no signs of life. He’s gone.” Sam threw his head back and cried out in grief.
Paragon had been the first to arrive on the scene, his rocket pack getting him to the house ahead of the police. Baxter had opened the front door for him when he had arrived, but he didn’t need the computer to tell him where to go. A blood trail led from the study towards the basement lab. Following it, he found Sam clutching the body of his son weeping. He took off his helmet as he stood at the lab door. “Jesus,” he muttered in shock.
Sam looked up, his eyes that of a broken man. “I’ve lost him John.” Paragon, or John Harris to his friends and family, had rushed over to his brother-in-law. He wanted to console him, but the words he usually used suddenly seemed hollow to him.
Somehow, he had managed to tear Sam away from Todd’s body and bring him upstairs. The police had arrived soon after, as did several of his Overwatch teammates. Although uninjured, Paragon had Sam taken to the medical facility onboard Sentinel, Overwatch’s aerial command centre that was already on route the region. The local police were only too happy to accept the assistance of the superheroes in the investigation, especially after hearing that the lab in the basement had been contaminated.
Paragon stood in the hallway, watching the forensic investigators move in to the study and begin their sweep. It had been nearly an hour since he had arrived, and he was still stunned by the brutal slaying of his nephew. Although none of the civilians knew that Sam Marshall’s wife had been the sister of the famous superhero, they could tell that the normally stoic man was deeply shocked by the incident. One of Overwatch’s technicians approached him holding a handheld DVD player, the look on the young man’s face told Paragon that he wasn’t going to like what he was about to be told.
Downstairs in the lab, another superhero stood over by the workbench looking down on the body. Her name was Shimmer, and it was because of her powers that she was the only one currently allowed in the sealed lab. She could push her body slightly out of phase with the rest of the universe, rendering her completely incorporeal. This meant that she could enter the lab without risk of contamination. Although theoretically, the nanobots that Doctor Marshall had been working with were inert outside of an organic medium once activated, no one was taking any chances. With the lab off limits, she had volunteered to enter it to obtain the crime-scene photographs the police needed and other forensic samples. She looked down at the body again. “Poor kid,” she said to herself, “what sort of monster guns down an innocent child like this.” She turned her back on the boy, took out a scanner calibrated to detect nanobots and began a scan of the lab. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed movement from the workbench. Just in time, she turned around to catch one of Todd’s hands twitching slightly. Moving back to the body, she bent down to re-examine it. As she watched, she saw the cut on the side of the boy’s head close up. “What the,” she muttered. Taking a risk, she brought herself back into phase and attempted to feel for a pulse. She found one; it was weak and erratic, but definitely there.
Paragon crushed the DVD player in his hand, his enhanced strength making it easy work. “That bastard,” he said loudly enough for everyone to hear, “I’m going to make him pay.” The technician swallowed and looked uneasy.
“Sir, there’s one other thing.” He had that look on his face that said “please don’t shoot the messenger.”
The technician’s answer was lost as Shimmer phased through the floor, a panicked look on her face. “The boy’s alive!”
“That’s not possible,” Paragon said, “the paramedics checked the body. He’s been dead for nearly an hour.”
“I don’t know how, but he’s alive now and he needs medical attention immediately.” Shimmer phased back through the floor as everyone in the hallway stood stunned by the news. Paragon ran down the stairs back to the lab, breaking through the quarantine seals.
“Baxter, is it true?” He asked the house computer.
“Yes sir, but he is barely registering. Life signs only began again a few seconds ago.”
Paragon looked down at Todd, if there was a chance that he was still alive …”We need to get him to a hospital quickly,” he said picking Todd up. He ran back up the stairs, bursting into the hallway and running out the front door, Shimmer just behind him.
“Good luck,” she called out as he ignited the rocket pack and took to the skies. The nearest hospital was only a few miles away but they would not be equipped to deal with this. Pushing the rockets past the redline, he streaked across the sky, leaving the city behind him. There was only one place that could help his nephew, Sentinel.
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.”
The days following the kidnap attempt were thankfully peaceful for Ryan. Monday was a Bank Holiday, which meant there was no school. This turned out to be fortunate for him as he discovered on the Sunday that he was a bit of lightweight when it came to alcohol. A couple of beers, it seemed, were all it took to put him well on the path to being drunk. Thankfully, Ben had noticed the state his friend was getting in and had intervened before Ryan had gotten too drunk. However Ryan looked like, and acted as if, he had been drinking, something that he wouldn’t be able to hide from his foster parents. Normally quite relaxed and understanding towards the children under their care, underage drinking was one of the things they drew the line at. If he had gone home in that state, he would have been in for a world of trouble. This was where the Bank Holiday saved his skin. Through nothing less than a small miracle, Ryan had been able to convince his foster parents over the phone to let him stay the night at Ben’s without tipping them off to his inebriated condition. The next morning, Ryan was introduced to that wonderful condition known as “a hangover.” It was a new experience for the boy, and one that made him swear off alcohol for life.
Being back at school on Tuesday was a welcome return to mundane everyday life. The predictable school routine, normally stifling and restrictive, almost made him forget about his life outside of school, homework and avoiding the attention of the teacher.
With its usual shrill buzzing, the alarm clock roused Ryan from a dreamless sleep. Ever since his encounter with the vampire, the nightly nightmares that usually troubled his sleep had been absent. Still, he wasn’t a morning person and he groaned as he pulled himself out of bed, tripping over the tangled blankets that had twisted themselves around his legs. With a grunt, he crashed to floor, roughly landing face first. A giggle from across the bedroom heralded Trey’s return to the land of the awake.
“Laugh it up squirt,” Ryan mumbled, “if you’re not out of bed by the time I’m free, I’m so gonna kick your ass.” It was an idle threat and Trey knew it. Ryan wouldn’t lay a finger on the younger boy in anger. It just wasn’t Ryan’s style to pick on or beat up kids younger than him. Nonetheless, the twelve-year-old found the energy from somewhere to get to the bathroom before Ryan could untangle the blankets.
Unlike every other morning, Trey seemed to have found more energy this morning than Ryan. Being washed and changed before the older boy, and even joining their foster parents for breakfast before Ryan had even left the bedroom. In a reversal of the normal routine that his foster parents found mildly amusing, it was Ryan that trudged grumpily down the stairs into the kitchen instead of Trey. Blearily keeping his eyes opened, he gulped down a glass of milk, refusing an offer of breakfast saying he wasn’t hungry.
The good weather from the Bank Holiday weekend had finally broken and a cold drizzle fell out of the grey sky. It was that annoying sort of rain, light enough so that you didn’t know you were getting wet until you were already soaked to the bone. The sea was calm for boat ride to school, and a sullen Ryan walked wearily up the stone path to the school buildings.
Throughout the morning lessons, he struggled to keep his eyes open and could barely concentrate on his work. Although tired, he knew that it wasn’t from lack of sleep. He had gone to bed early last night so he should have been properly rested. As the morning drew on, he began to develop a headache that was seemingly exacerbated by the buzzing of the fluorescent lights overhead. He could almost hear and feel every beat of his heart within his head. It didn’t take a genius to work out that he was sick; something that his friends pointed out more than once as the day went on. As usual however, Ryan didn’t want to make any fuss or draw attention to himself.
Lunchtime finally came and Ryan sat at a table forcing himself to eat some food. He still wasn’t hungry but he knew that he’d only feel worse on an empty stomach. So there he was, sitting by himself in the corner of the small dining hall, forcing a few chips into his mouth. Normally he would be making a pig of himself, enthusiastically scoffing down the ketchup-drenched chips but today the smell of them was making him nauseous. He pushed the plate back and rested his head in his folded arms, his hood pulled over his head. “Maybe I should go to the nurse’s office,” Ryan said as he closed his eyes.
Suddenly, the chair was pulled out from under him and he crashed to the floor. “Get up Henderson!” A very familiar voice said harshly. He opened his eyes to see Boris standing over him, scowling angrily. “When I’m done with you, they’ll have to CARRY you to the nurse’s office.” The sounds of conversation died as everyone turned to look at the brewing confrontation in the corner. Boris didn’t wait for Ryan to get up, reaching down and pulling the younger boy to his feet. Holding on to his collar, he shoved Ryan against the table, its legs screeching as they scraped across the floor.
Ryan shrugged off Boris’s grip but stopped short of pushing Boris back. The thug was already angry for some reason and he didn’t want to provoke him further. As it was, he had to hold on to the table with one hand to steady himself. “What’ve I done this time?” Ryan asked tiredly. He looked behind Boris and saw that the several of the boy’s cronies had joined him, forming a rough group itching for a fight.
“I know it was you,” Boris said, “that night in the alleyway. You told the police which way I went.”
“Oh … that,” Ryan said suddenly remembering the night clearly.
“It’s your fault that I got fucking community service. I gotta go to some stupid community music shit because of you.”
He wanted to say, “I didn’t make you steal that dirt bike, seems to me that getting caught was your own stupid fault.” However, he knew that would be a mistake so he said nothing, studying the situation and looking for a way out other than fighting.
Boris misread his silence. Unaware that Ryan was feeling ill, he took the boy’s pale complexion, the beads of sweat on his forehead and unsteadiness as fear. Sneering, Boris shoved Ryan hard in the shoulder. “What’s the matter, nothing to say?” Ryan didn’t answer.
By now, a crowd had gathered around them, some of the more callous members of which were starting to jeer and call the traditional playground chant of “fight fight fight!” Out of the corner of his eye, Ryan saw Trey run out of the dining hall. Emboldened by the chant, Boris threw a punch at Ryan. The jab struck the side of Ryan’s mouth and forcing the younger boy back a step. Despite drawing blood, Ryan could tell that the punch had been an attempt to injure him, but to provoke a response.
“This is only going to end when one of us is on the floor isn’t it?” Ryan asked wiping blood from his split lip.
The chants had gotten louder and the crowd bigger. Boris’s friends yelling “pound him into the floor.” The bully grabbed Ryan by the hair and pulled his fist back ready to punch. This time, judging by the expression on Boris’s face, Ryan knew that this one was going to be full force. If Boris wanted a fight, then a fight he was going to get. Before Boris could throw his punch, Ryan lashed out with one of his own, the heel of his hand striking upwards at the taller boy’s nose. Surprised by the strike, Boris cried out and lost his grip as blood started streaming from his nose. Ryan quickly dropped into a crouch, ducking under a wild retaliatory swing. With his arm outstretched, Boris had left himself open. Ryan scooted around behind him and punched him twice while still crouched, once behind each knee. Boris’s legs buckled and he collapsed to his knees. Standing up, Ryan wrapped his arm around Boris’s neck and applied pressure.
The crowd of schoolchildren had fallen into a stunned silence. Only a few seconds had passed since the start of the fight and no one had expected it to end so quickly or in this way. That the smaller boy had so quickly and completely overpowered the sixteen year old was a shock, even Boris’s friends had been surprised. Ryan had been their favourite target amongst the lower years for the last month or so. His small number of friends made it easy for them to get him alone. Boris had particularly enjoyed bullying the passive loner. However, there was no trace of passivity in the boy’s eyes now; only blind rage. Normally Boris friends would have stepped in by now, but the look in Ryan’s eyes chilled even them.
As Boris kicked and struggled in a vain attempt to free himself, a stray thought forced its way to the front of Ryan’s mind. It would be so simple to break Boris’s neck, just apply pressure and twist in a certain way. For several long seconds, Ryan actually weighed the pros and cons of killing Boris. Then a pair of strong arms grabbed him from behind. Two teachers had forced their way through the crowd to break up the fight. As one of the teachers tried to pry him off Boris, Ryan suddenly realised in horror that he had actually been considering murdering Boris. In the shock of the realisation, he released his grip, falling back into the teacher’s arms. He stared at Boris, contemplating what he may have almost done.
The other teacher bent down in front of Boris, who was still whimpering, and checked the boy’s bleeding nose. “I don’t think it’s broken but I should take him to the nurse’s office.” He helped Boris stand up.
“I’ll take this one to the principal’s office,” said the teacher hold Ryan by the arm. His grip was strong, almost hard enough to leave a bruise. “You’re not going to cause any more trouble, are you.” It was a statement, not a question. He was one of the PE teachers, a tall muscle-bound mountain of a man. As well as teaching at the school, he coached the local rugby team that Ben, Jake and Spud were members of. He was also very strict, a true believer in discipline and harsh punishment and the type of PE teacher that thought nothing of forcing children to play football or rugby in the most arctic of conditions. Most of the kids at the school were scared of him to some degree, even bullies like Boris. The other children parted as he dragged Ryan out of the dining hall. As they left, Jake came running around the corner, closely followed by Trey. The twelve-year-old must have gone for help when he saw the fight brewing.
“What happened?” Jake asked as the teacher led him down the corridor towards the principal’s office.
“Boris tried to pick a fight with him,” Ryan heard another student say to Jake, “but he ended up getting floored. You should’ve seen it man, Ryan took him down like he was nothing!”
Principal Winters was in his office, happily munching on a sandwich and enjoying his lunch break when there was a knock on his door. He sighed, bidding goodbye to the peaceful lunch he had been hoping to have. “Come in.” The door was opened and he looked over the top of his glasses as Ryan Henderson was pushed into the office by one of the PE teachers. There was a smear of blood by his lip and a stain on the sleeve of his top.
“Let me guess,” the principal said, “fighting?” It wasn’t the first time that the boy had been involved in a fight. Although to his credit, he had always been on the receiving end and had yet to start one. The PE teacher told him what he had seen after he had been summoned to the dining hall. Having not seen the start of the fight, only Boris being put in a chokehold, what he said to the principal didn’t exactly put Ryan in a good light. “So, what’s your version?” The principal asked Ryan, not expecting anything other than the usual protestations of innocence that most students made when in this position. Ryan looked up from the spot on the floor he had been staring at, pausing for several seconds as if he hadn’t heard the question. He finally opened his mouth as if to say something but instead stumbled slightly. For the first time, Principal Winters noticed that Ryan did not look well at all. He was about to ask if he was all right when the boy’s eyes suddenly rolled back and he collapsed. Only the quick reflexes of the PE teacher prevented Ryan from falling forward and striking his head against the desk.
The PE teacher gently laid the unconscious boy on the floor of the office as the Principal tried to wake him. “Quickly, get the nurse,” he said urgently as he placed a hand on the boy’s forehead, “he’s burning up.”
The wooden ruler slapped on to the desk next to his head, its harsh “crack” causing the boy to jerk upright. “I’m awake!” He said hastily by reflex, causing several of his classmates to snigger. Ryan looked up; Ms Harris was standing in front of him with her arms crossed, a look of annoyance on her face.
“Mr Henderson, since you feel that class time is an appropriate time to catch up on your sleep, perhaps you would prefer to complete your work after school?”
Under the piercing stare of his teacher, Ryan shank back in his seat. “Yes miss.” The teacher snorted and returned to the whiteboard at the front of the class, continuing with the lesson.
Ryan groaned inwardly and looked down at his desk at his already completed work. Science should be his favourite lesson; it was his best subject after all. However, in his first year of high school he had made a terrible mistake and in his first week no less. Ms Harris had been at the front of the class, sucking all the life out of a supposedly fun subject, when Ryan noticed that she had made a mistake when writing something on the board. Seeing this, he had made the fatal mistake of pointing out her error. Ms Harris was unfortunately not the sort of teacher that took being corrected well. As far as she was concerned, this snot-nosed brat had had the audacity to correct her in front of the entire class, to humiliate her. It didn’t matter that he had been right. For the rest of the year she had gone out of her way to make life difficult for him. Calling on him every time she asked the class question, whether he put his hand up or not, she was ready to pounce on him if he gave the wrong answer, which he rarely did. She was always critical of his work when marking it, finding some way to deduct marks even if it was for the most pettiest of reasons. At the start of Year 8, his form had had a different teacher for science and his grades had improved considerably but last September, he had learnt that Ms Harris would be his science teacher for Year 9 and his grades in the subject had since taken a nosedive.
When her attention was back on the rest of the class, Doug elbowed him. “Why do you let her get away with talking to you like that? Just because she’s the teacher don’t mean she’s got the right to treat you like shit.”
Ryan glanced towards the front of the class before whispering. “Because my mum and dad said that if she gave me any trouble this year, and if the headmaster didn’t do anything about it this time, they’d pull me out of school and teach me at home.”
“Home schooling?” Doug said a little too loudly, “no way!”
“Mr Roberts,” the teacher said from the front of the class, “do you want to join your friend in detention?”
“Then I suggest you pay attention and focus on your work. And Ryan, unlike you, Douglas has a chance of doing well on his SATS next week so please don’t disturb him or any other members of the class.” Looking down at the desk, Doug snickered quietly, earning him a kick and a hard stare from Ryan.
The rest of the school day was uneventful, the other classes passing much more smoothly. During detention, Ms Harris had him repeating the day’s class work as punishment for falling asleep. Ryan again finished the work quickly and surreptitiously started on his Spanish homework. She didn’t pay attention to him as she marked the last night’s homework. After an hour, he had served his sentence and Ms Harris let him go home.
Doug was waiting for him outside the school gates with their bikes. He looked up as Ryan walked out of the school building taking off his school tie and loosening the top button of his shirt. “Hey look,” Doug said grinning, “it’s the Truro One. Someone call the press, the political prisoner has been released.”
Ryan gave his friend a sidelong glance. “Very funny.” He knelt down and took his school shoes off, putting his trainers on in their place.
The two boys mounted their bikes and rode off through the town. As they hit the park that lay between their school and the road they both lived on, they accelerated down the bike path and raced through the park at breakneck speed. They had raced each other through the park almost every day since starting high school three years ago. It had become a kind of ritual, a way for them both to unwind. Eventually, the two boys erupted out of the park gates, skidding on to the road; the back wheels leaving lines of black rubber on the tarmac as they screeched around to rocket down the road. An irate driver beeped the horn of his car as he was cut up by the two hooded youths.
Doug reached their race’s finish post first, skidding to a halt outside Ryan’s house. The older boy was only seconds behind him but Doug still had enough time to dismount and turn to gloat at Ryan. “Beat you again Ryebread!”
“Yeah … well,” Ryan said getting off his bike and pushing it up the driveway, “one of these days.” Ryan opened the side door to the garage and they wheeled their bikes in, locking their bikes inside. As walked through the kitchen into the living room, Doug still gloating over his victory, they were ambushed by a three-foot tall, blond-haired assassin.
“Wyan home!” The little girl threw herself at Ryan, hugging his legs.
Laughing, Ryan picked up his three-year-old sister. “Hi Sarah, had fun today?” Her toys were scattered across the living room floor and the coffee table was covered in paper and Sarah’s crayons.
“Yep,” the little girl said, filling in her older brother on what she had done. As she did so, she noticed Ryan’s friend standing behind him. Scrunching up her face, she tried to remember his name. “Hi Dog.”
“It’s Doug,” said Doug.
“Dog!” She said triumphantly. He gave up trying to correct her as Ryan stifled a snigger. Sarah squirmed out of Ryan’s grip and scampered over to the table, picking up one of her drawings that she enthusiastically showed him.
Unseen by the children, Ryan’s older brother walked out of his father’s study and paused at the doorway to the living room. He had been trying to finish an essay on Celtic myths and religion for his university degree for several hours. After working all day on it, he had decided to take a break when he heard his brother come in. He stood at the door, watching his younger siblings at play. Behind him, their mother came down the stairs carrying a washing basket. “Did I hear Ryan come in,” she asked as she got to the bottom of the stairs. Mark nodded towards the living room. She popped her head round the door to ask her younger son about school but stopped as she saw Ryan and Sarah and smiled. “What?” Mark asked as he noticed her smile.
“Ryan and Sarah remind me of you and Ryan when he was that age,” she said quietly not wanting to disturb the scene. “Thanks again for staying in tonight and looking after your brother and sister; your father and I have been looking forward to this night for months.”
“No problem, me and the squirt’ll order some pizza and play some Xbox or something,” Mark said. “We’ll have a blast. It’s been a while since we’ve had a night in together and you and dad deserve a night out on your anniversary.”
At that moment, the front door opened. “Hey everyone, I’m home,” Paul said as he walked in.
“Daddy home!” Squealed Sarah as Ryan carried her on his shoulders into the hallway.
As usual, Doug joined them for dinner that evening. Ever since his father had walked on him and his mother two years ago, Doug and spent the evenings of most school nights at Ryan’s waiting for his mother to pick him up on her way home from work. Doug’s mother had been forced to take on a second job in order to make ends meet, often working late into the evening. When his father walked out, the eleven-year-old Doug had sunk into an angry depression. Instead of letting Doug go home to an empty house or hang around on the streets, Ryan had persuaded his mum to let Doug stay at theirs until his mum was finished with work. It was a good arrangement and if it hadn’t been for Ryan, Doug would have definitely gone off the rails.
Tracy had made pasta for dinner and the family plus one sat down and tucked in. Ryan’s father was a youth court judge and during the course of dinner, conversation turned to his work. At one point, he pointed his fork at his younger son in mock-seriousness. “I better not ever catch you in court in front of me,” he warned, “If I do, I will find a way to bring capital punishment back.”
“Never going to happen,” Ryan said through a mouthful of pasta. Swallowing, he smiled slyly. “I’m way too smart to get caught and besides, they’d never let you preside over my case. It’d be a conflict of interest me being a family member.” Laughter rippled across the table. Ryan looked over at Doug across the table from him and froze. For a split second, he couldn’t recognise the boy sitting opposite him. He looked a good year or two younger and his normally short and spiky brown hair, had become scruffily blond. At the same time, the food on the dinner table was not pasta, but the most succulent beef chilli that Ryan had ever smelt. Ryan blinked in confusion; Doug and the food were as they were.
“Pass the garlic bread squirt,” Mark said nudging his brother with his elbow. Distracted, Ryan passed Mark the wicker basket. As he turned to Mark, he suddenly felt a stab of irrational and intense hatred towards his brother as he looked at his face. The emotion was fleeting, gone in an instant and Ryan couldn’t work where it had come from “What?” Mark asked noting the slightly confused expression on Ryan’s face.
“You were home late from school today,” Ryan’s mum said conversationally.
Ryan shrugged. “Yeah, we stopped at HMV on the way home.” They ate in silence for several moments until his dad spoke.
Reluctantly, Ryan nodded. His mother put her fork down. “Was it Ms Harris again?” Ryan again hesitated before nodding. “Paul! I thought you said you talked with the headmaster.”
Ryan’s parents started to argue. When Ryan refused to answer, Doug was put on the spot by Paul and was forced to admit that Ryan had been having trouble with Ms Harris since September. Tracy was livid that her son had kept this to himself, especially after all the trouble they’d had in Year 7 with that teacher. As his parents tried to “discuss” the problem with him, Ryan kept his head down, pushing the pasta noodles around on his plate. Across the table, Doug could see Ryan was quietly seething, gripping his fork tightly enough to make the metal bend.
“It’s just one stupid teacher that has it in for me, not the whole fucking school,” Ryan muttered under his breath. Unfortunately, for him, Tracy had a mother’s hearing and she easily heard what Ryan said.
“Ryan Michael Henderson, that’s not the point and don’t you dare use that language in front of your sister.” She turned to face her husband across the table, “You’ll just have to talk to the headmaster, tell him we’ll have no choice but to withdraw Ryan from school if he lets that women’s behaviour continue.”
“NO!” Ryan yelled thumping the table. “You’ll only make it worse!”
“But…” Ryan’s mother started before she was interrupting.
“I like going to that school with my friends, you’re not taking that away from me. You’re not taking me out of school!” With that, Ryan got up from the table and stormed out of the room. There was an uncomfortable silence, broken only by Doug excusing himself from the table and going after his friend. It took Doug nearly half an hour to calm Ryan down. The older boy went back downstairs and apologised awkwardly to his parents for his outburst. Thankfully, they were understanding enough to let it slide this time, realising now how strongly he felt about the matter. They did warn him that if he still wanted to take his GCSE’s early as planned, then some things would have to change; he would have to get a weekend studies tutor. A fact that he didn’t exactly fill him with enthusiasm.
Ryan’s parents went out at seven that evening and with Sarah already in bed, the boys broke out the console, ordered a pizza and sat down to an impromptu video game tournament. Doug’s mum picked him up an hour later, not long after the pizza had arrived but giving him enough time to scarf down a couple of slices before he left leaving Mark and Ryan to clear up. As Mark tore up the cardboard pizza box before he put it in to the bin, he looked over his shoulder as Ryan came into the kitchen. “Your friend never seems to be around when there’s cleaning up to do.”
“That’s Doug for you,” Ryan said opening the fridge. He reached into the fridge took a can of beer from the shelf inside. As he moved to open it, Mark came up behind him and quickly took the can out of his hand and replaced it with a can of cola. “Give that back!”
“If mum and dad find out I let you drink beer, they’ll kill me.” As Ryan pouted, Mark opened the can and took a swig.
“Hey, you’re drinking it!”
“Yes,” Mark said ruffling the annoyed boy’s hair, “but the difference between us, little brother, is that I’m 20 and you’re only 14. You’ve another two years Squirt before you can legally enjoy this. Which reminds me, doesn’t Doug turn 14 on Saturday? You two got plans?”
Ryan sat down at the kitchen table drinking his fizzy drink as an evil thought wormed its way into his head. “We’re going to the cinema, see Iron Man. Neither of us has seen it yet, Doug made me promise to wait until his birthday. Then we’ll probably go back to his.”
“Sounds good,” Mark said sitting opposite him.
“His mum won’t be back from work till late so we’ll have the house to ourselves.” Ryan waited until he saw his brother raise the can to his lips to take another sip. “I guess I’ll get Doug hammered than have hot naked butt sex with the boy I’ve been lusting over for the last two years.” Mark spluttered into the can, coughing up the mouthful of beer he had been about to swallow, and looked at his brother in shock. A second later, Ryan’s face crumpled as he burst out laughing hard enough to draw tears of amusement. “Oh man, you should see your face! I wish I had a camera, it’s priceless.”
Mark glared at Ryan. “Ryebread,” he said using the nickname that he had given to his brother when they were younger, “I still think of you as my little baby brother; I don’t want the image of you and ‘hot naked butt sex’ anywhere near my brain.”
Grinning evilly, Ryan leaned forward. “Hey, you’re just jealous that I’m secure enough in my own sexuality to be able to make jokes like that.”
Rolling his eyes, Mark groaned. The two brothers went back to the living room, Ryan giggling and laughing. It took him a full five minutes for him to stop sniggering. When he did so, he paused the game they were playing and looked up at his older brother, a serious expression on his face. “You’re gonna have to tell them at some point you know.”
“I know,” Mark finally said. Ryan had known that Mark was gay for at least a year and a half after coming home from school early one day and stumbling across Mark and his boyfriend. Fearing the worst, Mark had panicked when his twelve-year-old brother had walked in on him and his boyfriend kissing. However, Ryan had just stood there surprised for a second before going upstairs to do his homework. After getting rid of his boyfriend, he had gone upstairs to try to convince his brother to keep what he saw a secret. Ryan had simply told him that it didn’t matter to him whether he was gay, straight, bi or other; he’d still be his brother. He had also promised not to tell their parents. Since then though, the two brother’s had been a little distant from one another. Ryan hadn’t enjoyed keeping the secret, feeling like he was lying to his parents. A small part of him resented his brother for putting him in that position. Yet he had meant what he said that day, Mark was his brother and he’d always be his brother, nothing could ever change that.
“Are you still worried that they won’t understand?” Ryan asked.
Mark shrugged in answer. “I don’t know.”
Ryan elbowed Mark in the side. “Hey, you’re talking to the guy that memorised all 177 elements on the periodic table just for fun. If they’ll accept a freak like me they’ll have no problems with you.” He ducked under a cushion thrown at him. “Pendejo,” he said throwing the cushion back at Mark and the smaller boy leapt across the sofa, knocking them both to the floor. The brothers play-wrestled on the floor, rolling around for several minutes before Ryan ended up on his back with Mark sitting on his chest, pinning his hands to the floor above his head.
“You never learn do you Squirt?” Mark said as he leaned over Ryan, “I’m bigger and stronger than you.”
Grinning, Ryan looked back up at his brother. “I won’t be weaker than you forever then I’ll be able to kick YOUR ass for once.”
“Never going to happen little brother.”
There was a knock on the front door, three sharp raps followed by the chime of the doorbell. Mark sighed and got up off Ryan. “We’ll finish this when I get back.” Mark walked into the hallway and saw the shape of a man silhouetted against the frosted glass of the front door. Wondering who it could be, Mark opened the front door and was confronted by a mirror image of himself. As he stood there, speechless in confusion, the corners of the other Mark’s mouth curled upwards slightly.
“Hello … me,” the other Mark said as he slammed his open palm against Mark’s chest. Mark struggled to speak as a sudden and intense cold flooded out from the hand, engulfing every corner of his body. His body was frozen, locked in place. The hand began to push at Mark’s chest, sinking into it as if the flesh and bones were no obstacle. “I’d say this won’t hurt, but I make it a point never to lie to myself.” He thrust his hand forward, right up to his elbow and beyond. Far further than he ought to have been able to. Taking a deep breath, he stepped forward into the twitching body of his double, merging with it completely. The body shook in the throes of a seizure as the two Mark’s battled for control. However, it was a one sided struggle. Within seconds, Mark had destroyed the original owner of the body, gaining access to his the memories and experiences. “I’m doing a degree in Celtic mythology?” Mark said in surprise, “I turned out to be such a tool.”
“Who’s at the door?” Ryan called from the other room.
“No one,” Mark said smiling as he closed the front door, “just a bunch of kids playing knock a door run.” Slowly, Mark walked back in to the living room. He looked down at his oblivious younger brother. “Now, where were we?”
“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.”
Ryan slowly opened his eyes, a dull throbbing ache reverberating through his head. It was dark and it took a few minutes for his eyes to adjust to the surroundings. He was lying on his side and his hands were tied behind his back with a pair of cable tie like plasticuffs. His ankles were similarly bound together and a cloth rag had been stuffed into his mouth with another tied around his head to keep it in place. Looking around, he realised that he was lying in the back of a van, the sudden lurches telling him they were travelling down country roads at high speed. Bound and gagged in the back of a van, kidnapped by two men, he was alone and helpless; just like he was all those years ago. Ryan lay back down on the cold metal floor as the tears began to run down his cheek despite his attempts to hold them back.
Sitting in the front of the van, Jared noticed the movement in the back. He nudged Seth with his elbow and nodded towards the boy. The vampire unbuckled his seatbelt and climbed into the back of the van. He sat down opposite Ryan and looked down at the boy. Ryan looked back up at him through red eyes. “Not so tough now, eh?” The vampire sneered.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Ben said staring out of the windscreen as they drove through the evening dusk. Daniel looked over at him as the boy continued. “I mean, my friend’s been kidnapped and rather than call the cops, I get in to a car with a complete stranger who wields glowing knives.”
“What was that you just said?” Daniel said suddenly.
“I said I must be crazy. What am I going to do next, take sweets off a stranger?” Daniel looked at Ben a little closer. There was no way that anyone should have been able to see the chi flowing through his knives. Outside of the spirit realm, the energy flow should be invisible. As they paused at a pedestrian crossing, waiting for the lights to change, Daniel concentrated on the boy sitting next to him. Focusing his abilities, he sensed the boy’s aura. It was strange, different somehow but Daniel couldn’t figure out how. “God, I hope he’s alright.” Ben said sighing.
It was at that point that Daniel finally recognised the boy. “Your name’s Ben right?” He asked as they accelerated down the road away from the centre of town.
“How do you know my name?” Ben asked suspiciously, inadvertently confirming his name. Daniel reached behind him to the back seat, picked up a file and tossed it over to Ben.
“I found that in a hotel room rented by the two men who took Ryan.” Ben opened the file and looked at the contents. There were pictures of him and his friends inside but most of the information in the file was about Ryan; school reports, medical records, a newspaper clipping, care home placements and even psychiatric evaluations. Before he could read any of it, Daniel had grabbed the file out of his hands and tossed it back on the back seat. “There’s some pretty private stuff in there about Ryan and if he hasn’t felt able to confide in you; it’s not my place to tell.” Daniel pulled the car over to the side of the road. Ahead of them, the road forked as it left town. Although both of them lead to Plymouth and from there to the motorway, Ryan’s kidnappers could have taken either route. It was crucial that they chose the right one; otherwise, they could miss their chance to catch up with Ryan and his kidnappers. “Ok, this could be a problem.”
“What now?” Ben asked.
“Now,” Daniel said reaching over to the glove compartment, “I break the laws of science.” Ben watched as rooted through its contents. It was full of papers, maps and tools. Eventually he pulled out a compass.
“What do you mean?”
“Just watch.” Daniel held the compass in one hand and cupped his other over it, concealing the compass within. He closed his eyes and as he did so, a pale white glow emanated from between his hands. “Ostendo mihi via ut puer.” When he removed his hand, Ben could see the needle of the compass spinning wildly. As he watched, the needle started to glow and stopped spinning. Rather than pointing due north, it was now pointing to the northeast, lining up with the right hand road. Daniel gunned engine and turned towards the indicated road. “Last chance to get out kid,” he said turning to the boy, “it might get dangerous from here.”
Ben swallowed audibly, a look of resolve replacing the worried expression on his face. “No way, Ryan saved my life. The least I can do is return the favour.”
“Good answer,” Daniel said as they drove off, “but there are a couple of things you need to know.”
Ryan glared back as the vampire looked down at him. The way the vampire seemed to be studying him made him uncomfortable. “What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?” Seth asked. Ryan mumbled something behind the gag. “What was that?” Seth said cupping his hand to his ear. Again, Ryan said something that was muffled by the gag. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you to not to speak with your mouth full.” Seth reached forward, pulled Ryan into a sitting position and loosened his gag.
“I said ‘fuck you’, you blood sucking leech.” Ryan said spitting in Seth’s face, the glob hitting the vampire’s cheek.
The vampire wiped the spittle from the side of his face. “Good aim.” He punched Ryan harshly in the face, the boy grunting in pain as the fist connected with his nose.
“Why are you doing this?” Ryan asked, sniffing slightly as blood started dribble out of his nose.
“Because,” Seth said leaning closer, “for some reason your brother is willing to pay an obscene amount to get his hands on you.” At the mention of his brother, Seth heard Ryan’s heart begin to race.
“Please,” Ryan begged, “he wants to kill me! You can’t hand me over to him.”
Seth laughed. “As long as he pays what he owes, he can spit-roast you over a barbecue for all I care.”
“You can’t do this, please.”
Seth reached over and replaced the gag. “Watch me.” Ryan tried to scream from behind the cloth. The vampire reached into his pocket and pulled out a battered mobile phone. He kicked Ryan in the side of the face to shut him up, knocking him back to the floor and leaving a boot shaped red mark across his face. Pointing the phone’s camera at Ryan, he took a photo of the boy as he lay on the cold metal floor battered, bound and bleeding, illuminating the scene with the phone’s flash. A few button pushes later and the photo was beaming its way across the mobile network to a handset in London. Within seconds, Seth’s phone rang and the vampire quickly answered it. “Talk … nothing I couldn’t handle … at the moment, no … uh huh … got it …” Seth looked down at Ryan and smiled. “Your brother wants a word with you.” He removed the cloth gag and held the phone to the boy’s ear.
“Hello little brother, it’s been a while.” As he heard his brother’s voice, Ryan froze. In that instant, it was four years ago and he was ten years old again. Blood splattered on his face, his parents lying dead in front of him. Mark’s voice in his ear, the last words his brother spoke to him burning into his memory as the knife sliced into his throat. His brother’s voice cut through the flashback. “What’s this, after four years you’ve got nothing to say?”
“Go to hell you bastard, I don’t have a brother!” Ryan yelled.
Mark chuckled down the phone. “Is that any way to speak to your brother?”
“You lost the right to call yourself that,” Ryan said angrily, “when you raped and tried to murder me!”
“It was nothing personal Ryan, I…”
“Nothing personal?” Ryan said incredulously, cutting him off. “You don’t get much more personal than that!”
“Well, we’ll have plenty of time to talk in a few hours.” Seth took the phone away from Ryan’s ear and shoved the gag back into his mouth, ruffling the boy’s hair patronisingly as he did so. The vampire climbed back into the front passenger seat, leaving Ryan alone in the back of the van. As Mark talked, he rooted through the glove compartment looking for an A-Z Map of London. He followed Mark’s directions and circled a street on the map, showing the location to Jared who held up four fingers.
“No problem, should take us about five, five and half hours … ok, see you there. And make sure you’re ready with the payment.” Seth hung up as Jared looked at him quizzically.
“Why did you say five? We can make it in four.” Jared asked.
“Because,” Seth said glancing at the tied-up boy lying in the back, “now we’ve got some time to have some ‘fun’ with the brat.”
Ryan lay there wriggling his wrists and ankles, desperately trying to loosen the restraints as he listened to what the two men had planned for him. It was useless though, they were too tight. The only thing he achieved was to inflict small cuts on his already sore wrists and he felt blood slowly trickle out of the fresh wounds. As he struggled, he began to realise that the situation was hopeless.
“So,” Ben said taking a deep breath, “Ryan’s been kidnapped by a vampire.”
“Yes,” Daniel said keeping an eye on the compass.
“But the other guy isn’t a vampire?”
“No, as far as I know he’s just a regular human being.”
“How do you know?”
“There’s a bag on the back seat, reach around and get it. Have look inside; there should be a pair glasses in there.” After a few seconds of rummaging, Ben pulled out a pair of strange looking glasses. The lenses were smoked and thicker than normal, although they did not appear to be designed to correct the wearer’s vision. Just above the nose bridge were two small LEDs, neither were lit. Either side of the lenses, Ben could see two devices that looked like the small digital camera lenses found on mobile phones. Just behind the cameras were two small buttons. Ben assumed the batteries were contained in the ends of the legs that were bulkier than usual. “Put them on and press one of the buttons.” Ben did as he was instructed, pushing the button next to the left lens. There was a flicker of static in his left eye but it quickly vanished. At first he didn’t notice anything different but soon, he could just about make out a second “ghost” image overlaying his vision through his left eye. “The lenses are actually semi-transparent LCD screens linked to the cameras on either side of the glasses. Since the image of a vampire cannot be recorded electronically, the digital cameras won’t see them. The semi-transparent nature of the screens allows the image captured by the cameras to be overlaid over the natural optical information coming into your eye.”
“Meaning that a vampire will appear transparent,” Ben said realising what Daniel was trying to explain.
“That’s right.” As they drove on, the lights of Cliffport had receded behind them and they were now driving down dark and unlit country roads. There was no traffic in either direction and they drove on through the evening alone, neither saying much to the other. Daniel was beginning to regret bringing the boy along with him. He had initially thought that having a friendly face with him might convince Ryan that he was there to help. Now, he had realised that he’d probably made a mistake. All he was doing was putting a second boy in danger. “You know, you’re taking all this rather well. Most people would freak if they found out that one of their friends had been kidnapped by a vampire.”
“Well,” Ben said shrugging, “a week ago I was attacked and nearly killed by something called a ‘deepling’. If it wasn’t for Ryan kicking its ass, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
At the mention of the deepling, Daniel glanced at the Ben curiously. Ryan had taken on and defeated a deepling? That was no easy feat for a 14-year-old. Suddenly, as they turned a corner, a pair of red rear lights appeared out of the darkness ahead of them. In the light from the car’s headlights, Daniel recognised it as the van used in Ryan’s kidnapping. He took the glasses off Ben, placing them in his lap.
“Is that them?” Ben asked pointing towards the van. Daniel nodded in response. They stopped behind the van as it paused at a cross roads before turning left. Daniel drove the car straight on. “Wait, aren’t we gonna follow them?”
The older man didn’t answer; instead, he drove forward until they were out of sight of the van. He picked up the glasses in his lap and put them on, fiddling with some of the buttons. Turning the car around, Daniel switched off the headlights and began following the van. Responding to Ben’s quizzical look, he pointed at the glasses. “Oh, they also double as night vision aids.” The followed the van for twenty minutes until it pulled off into a rest area. He stopped the car and backed it up around the corner and out of sight before turning to Ben. “Stay in the car,” the older man said as he reached into the back and pulled out a duffel bag.
“But,” the boy started to say in protest.
“No,” Daniel said firmly pressing the car keys into Ben’s hand, “no matter what happens, you stay in the car and lock the doors. If something goes wrong, you get yourself out of here. Don’t be a hero.” Daniel got out of the car and jogged into the bushes that ran by the side of the road, bag in hand, leaving Ben alone in the car to glower at his back.
Seth turned to Jared. “Pull up in that rest area,” he said pointing out through the windscreen, “that looks as good a place as any.”
Ryan felt the van turn off the tarmac road and onto a stretch of rustling dirt and gravel. His heart was pounding in his chest, and his panicked breaths through the gag were short and ragged. He had never been more terrified in his life, almost scared beyond rational thought. Four years ago, he had been too young and naive to understand what was happening to him. Now he was older, and unfortunately for him, wiser. He knew what Mark had planned for him, and he had a good idea what the vampire had meant by “having fun.” His struggles to escape his bonds had now become frantic, his wrists slick with the blood from the cuts caused by the plasticuffs.
Jared switched off the engine and opened the driver’s side door. “Where are you going?” Seth asked him as the vampire turned to climb into the back.
“I’m going for a slash,” Jared replied pointing towards the toilet block he had seen as they pulled in.
The vampire chuckled. “Ahh urination, a mortal weakness that I don’t miss.”
Jared climbed out of the van and turned to face Seth. “Oh I don’t know, I think it’s a good trade-off if it means I can enjoy a cold beer and a good kebab.”
“I can enjoy a cold beer as well you know,” Seth said in mock-pout.
“Yeah,” Jared said slyly, “but only after it’s been filtered through someone else’s digestive system and into their bloodstream.” He closed the van door and started walking to the toilet block. Seth climbed into the back and sat opposite Ryan. He looked down at the boy whose struggles had ceased when the vampire had sat down. The boy’s obvious distress aroused him, as did the smell of the boy’s sweat and blood. He reached down, wiped some of the boy’s blood on to his finger and brought it up to his mouth, sucking on the blood soaked digit. The vampire closed his eyes and groaned in pleasure at the sweet taste.
Along with the pounding headache, Ryan now felt nauseous watching the vampire enjoy the taste of his blood. He glared at the vampire, determined not to show any fear or weakness. Seth laughed as he saw the childish defiance in the boy’s eyes. “Glare at me all you want boy, it aint gonna save you.” The vampire got up and pulled out a large knife. Kneeling down next to Ryan, he bent over and cut the plasticuffs securing his ankles. “One way or another,” he said sitting down on Ryan’s legs, preventing the boy from kicking out at him, “by the end of tonight you’ll be screaming. The only choice you get in the matter is whether it’ll be in pain or in pleasure.” He reached down and began slowly massaging the boy’s groin through the material his long shorts. The boy squirmed beneath him, wriggling in an attempt to get free while furiously shaking his head. In response, the vampire started to massage him more roughly causing Ryan to whimper through the gag. “The more you resist, the more it’ll hurt.” A single tear escaped from Ryan’s left eye. Seth leant forward and licked at the side of Ryan’s face. As the boy shivered at the unwanted physical contact, Seth pushed his free hand under Ryan’s hoodie and t-shirt and began to play with one of the boy’s nipples. “Relax a little, it’s not as if you’re a virgin at this,” the vampire whispered cruelly into Ryan’s ear before kissing the boy softly on the forehead, “which is a shame since I prefer tight young virgin ass.”
Ryan took the opportunity to attack then with the only weapon available to him, jerking upward and head butting the vampire in the face. Seth grunted in pain and fell off Ryan as the boy kicked up with one leg, unbalancing the vampire. As the vampire sat on the floor clutching his nose, Ryan lashed out with his foot. The boy’s kick connected with the vampire’s jaw, the heel of his shoe striking solidly with the side of the face. Seth was momentarily stunned by the savage kick but quickly shook it off as he saw Ryan scramble to his feet and start moving towards the back door. He got up and grabbed the back of the boys head by his hair, yanking back hard. Ryan screamed in pain as he was pulled off his feet and fell backwards. Using the momentum of the fall, Seth slammed the boy’s head on the floor of the van. Ryan struggled to stay awake as red and white flashes washed over his vision, the blow to the head making him dizzy. He felt himself flipped on to his stomach as rough hands grabbed his belt and pulled his shorts down to his ankles, taking his boxers with them. Seth looked down at the half-naked boy beneath him as he straddled Ryan’s legs. “Your brother may want you alive,” he said undoing his own pants, “but I guarantee that when we’re finished with you, you’ll be begging us to kill you to make the pain stop.” As Seth positioned himself above and behind Ryan, ready to take the boy whether he wanted it or not, the side door of the van slid open. “What took you so long, you almost missed the fun.” He turned to the door, expecting to see Jared. Instead, he came face to face with the barrel of a pump-action shotgun.
“Suck on this leech.” Daniel said pulling the trigger. The shotgun’s blast was like thunder in the enclosed space, the flash of the blast illuminating the interior of the van like a strobe. Seth was thrown back against the side of the van, his blood spraying against the wall. As the vampire slid down the wall, its head a ragged mess of torn flesh, Daniel put the shotgun down and reached into the van to Ryan; gently sitting him up with one hand while pulling the boy’s shorts back up with the other. Ryan’s eyes went wide; first with confusion, then with recognition. Behind him, the vampire was already starting to move as the flesh and bone started to knit themselves back together. “We better hurry,” Daniel said, loosening the gag and pulling out his knife so he could cut the plasticuffs binding Ryan’s hands. “That only slowed him down.” However, before he could cut the plasticuffs, he was struck from the side by a blinding bolt of electricity, sending him scraping across the floor. Ryan whipped his head around and saw the vampire’s partner standing by the toilet block, electricity crackling up and down the man’s forearms. Daniel grabbed Ryan’s leg as he pulled himself up off the floor and looked up at the boy, twitching as the after-effects of the electrical attack fired random nerve impulses. “Run,” he said pointing down the road. Not waiting to be told twice, Ryan slid off the van and started running down the road.
Seth sat up just in time to see Ryan jump out of the van and run off. Cursing, the vampire jumped up and leaped out of the van; narrowly avoiding landing on Daniel who rolled out of the way. Jared was already running towards ran and when he saw Seth get out he yelled, “Go get the kid; I’ll deal with this fucker.” Seth nodded, batted away an attempt by Daniel to grab him, and set off in pursuit of Ryan.
“First a vampire, now a bloody warlock,” Daniel muttered grabbing the shotgun and pointing it at Jared, identifying him as a greater threat than the vampire because of the man’s use of magic. Jared reached out with his hand, flicking his wrist. The shotgun was wrenched out of Daniel’s hands; flying across the space between the two men.
Ben sat in the front passenger seat twirling the car keys anxiously around his fingers. He had put the glasses on to take his mind off the situation and had to admit that they were cool. Everything appeared a ghostly green through the glasses, although the digital smearing of the image as he moved his head made him slightly nauseous. He wondered how Daniel had been able to drive wearing them.
He had just discovered the zoom function when the boom of a shotgun caused him to jump, dropping the glasses. Less than a minute later, he saw the blue-white flash of lightning illuminating the area, the light emanating from just around the corner. Ben looked nervously at the back seat, hoping to find a weapon of some sort. Motion in the corner of his eye made Ben face forward and he saw Ryan run around the corner, almost stumbling several times. With a relieved smile on his face, he unlocked the car door, ready to go out and meet Ryan but then he saw the reason behind his friend’s panicked flight. Someone was chasing him and, just like before, the pursuer was gaining ground. This time however, Ben was not just going to stand by and watch his friend be attacked. Shifting over to the driver’s seat, he slammed the keys into the ignition and started the engine. Luckily for him, Daniel’s car was an automatic and he slammed his foot down on the accelerator, the car surging forwards.
With the vampire just a few feet behind, Ryan’s feet pounded the tarmac as he desperately tried to escape. Suddenly, he heard the sound of an engine being gunned and he was blinded by a pair of headlights as a car roared towards him. Ben drove the car around Ryan, missing him by just inches as the back wheels lost traction and skidded across the tarmac. The headlights briefly illuminated Seth’s face as the car hit him head on. Ryan turned and saw the vampire strike the windscreen, spider-webbing the glass as he was thrown up and over the car, rolling several times. Ryan stopped as the car screeched to a halt.
Ben jumped out of the car, its engine still running, and ran over to Ryan. Ryan was dumbfounded as he saw Ben approach him, a beaming smile on his face. “What … what are you doing here?” he stammered as Ben skidded to a stop in front of him.
“Rescuing you,” Ben replied as he noticed Ryan’s hands were tied behind his back. “Come on, I think I saw a knife in the car.” He pulled Ryan over to the car, climbing in to pull out a craft-knife from a toolbox on the back seat. Turning Ryan around, he started to cut through the tough plastic of the plasticuffs. Suddenly, a voice groaned from behind the car. Both boys turned to see a hand clamp on to the rear spoiler. Using it as leverage, Seth pulled himself upright, his fangs bared in an inhuman snarl.
“What is it with you kids from that town?” He flexed his neck muscles as he stepped away from the car, the ligaments in his neck cracking. Before either boy could react, the vampire charged forward, shoved Ryan out of the way and grabbed Ben. The younger boy cried out as the vampire turned him around so that they were facing Ryan, the smaller boy pinned against the vampire’s chest by one of the man’s tattooed arms. As Ryan tried to get back up, Seth grabbed Ben’s hair with his free hand and pulled his head back, baring the boy’s neck. “You shouldn’t have run boy, now you’re going to watch me kill your little friend here.” He held onto the struggling boy, leaning down ready to tear the boy’s throat out with his fangs when he was stopped by the sound of laughter. Seth looked up; Ryan was on his knees laughing quietly.
“Ooh, that was a mistake,” Ryan said coldly getting to his feet. “Threaten me, beat me, I don’t care. But, if you harm him, I swear to God, I’ll rip out your spleen and shove it so far down your throat you’ll be pissing bile for a week. Vampiric metabolism or not.”
Ben breathed in sharply. He could barely recognise the person standing in front of him as his friend. Ryan’s face was distorted by barely suppressed rage and his whole body was shaking. However, what chilled Ben the most were Ryan’s eyes. They were cold, utterly devoid of any emotion. He felt the vampire’s grip on him loosen slightly, but no amount of struggling would allow him to escape.
“What,” Seth said laughing, “you’re gonna beat me with your hands tied behind your back?”
Ryan took a step forward, meeting the vampire’s eyes. “If necessary,” he said through gritted teeth.
Seth’s smile vanished as he looked at the 14-year-old boy in front of him. The scared and terrified child that he had tormented in the van was gone. In his place was someone that had been pushed to breaking point, and then thrown beyond it. Still holding Ben’s hair, he hit the boy’s head on the metal bonnet of the car, knocking him out. “You know what, your brother’s going to have to wait because after I’m done beating you to a pulp, I’m gonna make you watch me kill each and every one of your friends, one by one.”
As Ben slumped to the floor, Ryan dug the front of his foot into the dirt where he was standing. Seth didn’t notice the subtle moment and as he moved towards Ryan, the boy whipped his foot up, kicking up a cloud of dust and dirt into Seth’s eyes. With the vampire temporarily blinded, Ryan turned sideways on to him, spinning on his heel, and kicked out at the vampire’s chest. The force of Ryan’s left foot left the vampire winded but Ryan didn’t give him a chance to recover as he kicked out again. This time at the vampire’s left leg. Ryan allowed himself a small smile as the vampire collapsed to one knee, bringing his face within easy striking distance. Seth however was in not going to make it easy for him and the vampire’s vision cleared just in time to see Ryan’s foot heading straight for his face. He easily blocked the blow, standing up and growling as Ryan darted back a step. Seth vowed that he wasn’t going to underestimate the boy this time.
He punched at Ryan who attempted to dodge the blow but wasn’t quite fast enough. The punch struck him in the shoulder and unbalanced him, sending him to the ground. Almost at the instant that the boy hit the ground, his legs span around in a scissor kick. Seth jumped over the legs as Ryan used the momentum to get up, rolling backwards away from the vampire. Quickly closing the distance, he attempted to punch Ryan again. Ryan ducked under the strike and jumped up off the ground, spinning as he kicked Seth first with his left foot and then with his right. Both strikes landing squarely on Seth’s chest in a perfectly executed butterfly kick.
Around the corner, flashes of electrical discharge illuminated the trees as crackles of lighting erupted from the rest area where the van had been parked. The origin of the discharges was around the corner and hidden by the steep hedgerows and trees that lined this part of the road. Neither Ryan nor Seth noticed this however; both were too focused on each other.
Seth staggered back under the two-kick assault. When they had met before, his strength and speed had given him the upper hand. Now he wasn’t so sure. He began to think that taking this job might have been more trouble than it was worth.
Landing in a crouch as he came out of the butterfly kick, he sprang up and spin kicked the cars wing mirror. The mirror flew at Seth, who dodged the projectile easily. Ryan had not kicked the mirror as an attack though, but as a way to force the vampire back and away from the car. Ryan now stood between Ben and the vampire and he quickly glanced down at his friend. Apart from a slight cut to the forehead, Ben was all right, and he was just unconscious. Suddenly, Seth took advantage of Ryan’s momentary inattention and darted forward, closing the gap between them. He punched Ryan in the side of the face and in the chest before shoving Ryan onto the bonnet of the car. Grabbing him by the neck and holding him down, he smirked as he throttled the boy. Ryan’s vision was starting to blur and his hearing was starting to buzz as his brain was starved of oxygen. He knew that he only had a few seconds before he blacked out completely and with his hands tied behind his back, he was rapidly running out of options. The vampire was pressed up against him, pinning his legs to the bodywork of the car. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t breathe, and all he could do was look up at the face of the man strangling him. The vampire grunted in satisfaction as he saw Ryan’s consciousness beginning to fade. Just as Ryan’s eyelids began to flutter, the boy somehow found a way to bring his legs up and kick the vampire off him. Ryan rolled backwards off the bonnet of the car and fell to the tarmac on the other side.
Seth watched as the boy disappeared out of sight. “This is getting ridiculous,” Seth thought to himself. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted something through the open back door of the car. Lying in the foot well between the front and back seats was a bag. Sticking out of the bag was a wooden baseball bat with a rubberised grip and handle. Seth picked up the bat as swung it several times, testing the weight. “Perfect,” he thought.
Ryan spluttered and wheezed as he sat against the front wheel, gasping for air. Suddenly he felt the car dip on its suspension and he heard the sound of metal warping. He looked up just in time to see the vampire standing on the bonnet raise a baseball bat above his head to bring it slamming down on his. The boy rolled to the side, springing to his feet as the bat struck the metal where his head had been just moments before. The vampire swung the bat again but missed as Ryan ducked, a wry grin on his face. “What’s the matter? An unarmed and tied up kid too much for you to handle so you got to resort to using a weapon?” Ryan mocked mercilessly, his voice croaking slightly.
“Shut up,” Seth snapped in frustration. He swung the bat, shattering the passenger-side front window as Ryan sidestepped around the swing and kicked out at Seth. Ryan’s foot connected with Seth’s wrist forcing the vampire to drop the bat and stumble back. As the bat hit the tarmac, the end of handle fell off, disconnecting easily from the rest of the bat. The wood where it had disconnected was sharpened into a point, almost as if the handle had been designed to conceal it. Both Seth and Ryan looked at the bat.
“You need hands to use a stake kid, all those fancy kicks of your’s aren’t going to help you.” Seth could tell by the expression on his face that the boy knew he was right. Then something seemed to change within Ryan. He started to pull at the restraints, first grunting and then screaming in pain. “Struggle all you want kid, you’ll never get them off that way.” Ryan didn’t listen; he continued to pull at the plasticuffs. Seth would have been right if it wasn’t for the small cut in the plastic that Ben had been able to make before they had been interrupted. The cut wasn’t very deep, but it was just enough to weaken the plasticuff to the point where the tough plastic snapped, the broken plasticuffs falling uselessly to the ground. “That’s … that’s impossible,” Seth said in surprise.
They both dived towards the bat at the same time, Ryan getting to it just seconds before the vampire. He span the bat in his hand, driving the pointed end up into Seth’s chest as the vampire landed on top of him. “Classic famous last words,” Ryan muttered as Seth howled. Ryan pushed the vampire off him and sat there panting as the vampire screamed and thrashed next to him. Ryan stood up, looking down at the vampire. Seth’s screams had become animal, inhuman in nature. Black veins were beginning to show themselves across his face and hands, anywhere where exposed flesh could be seen. Eventually, the vampire’s movements ceased and he dissolved into nothing more than a pile of dust. Hearing a sound from behind, Ryan turned around and brought his fists up ready to defend himself again.
Holding his side, his clothing scorched and burned in places, Daniel stood and looked at the scene in front of him. Looking slightly worse for wear, Ryan was bleeding from several small cuts, his clothes were filthy and a nasty looking black eye was starting to form. Yet despite this, he stood there triumphant and ready to continue fighting. To say that the experienced hunter was impressed would be an understatement. As Ryan recognised that the man in front of him wasn’t a threat, his shoulder’s sagged and he lowered his fists, the adrenaline draining from his system. Ben awoke with a groan, unsteadily standing up and holding his head. “Can we go home now?”
Sue looked at her watch as she sat watching the television. Ryan was supposed to be home over two hours ago and she was starting to get a little worried. It wasn’t like him to be this late. “I’m sure he’s fine,” Anthony said from the kitchen where he was working on his laptop, reading his wife’s mind. “You know what teenagers are like, he’s probably just lost track of time.”
Almost on cue, the front door opened and Ryan walked in. Sue stood up, launching into a prepared speech. “What time do you … good God, what happened?”
Ryan closed the front door and started walking towards the stairs, not saying a word and limping slightly. Anthony got up and walked into the living room and gasped when he saw the state his foster son was in. Sue had gone over to Ryan, taking him by the shoulders and turning him around. It seemed to take the boy a few moments to notice this, his eyes unfocused and vacant. “I’m … I’m fine,” he said finally. It seemed a struggle for him to speak.
“You’re not fine,” Anthony said trying to guide him towards one of the chairs, “you look like you’ve been beaten up. You’re not going anywhere until you tell me what happened.”
For a second it looked like Ryan wasn’t going to answer; then he shrugged and looked down at the floor. “It’s nothing, I just got mugged.” Ryan couldn’t look at his foster parents, afraid that they would be able to tell that he was lying.
“You should’ve called us,” Sue said.
“They didn’t get anything and I didn’t want to worry you,” Ryan said dismissively.
Anthony sighed, “But that’s what we’re here for.”
Ryan pulled away from them. “I gotta use the bathroom,” he said quietly, heading up the stairs and barging past Trey who had been listening on the landing. He went into the bathroom, closing and locking the door behind him. Standing in front of the mirror, he saw for the first time the state his face was in. As he stood there, everything that had happened to him replayed itself in his head in a confused jumble of images. He started to shake uncontrollably as he slowly collapsed to the floor. Ryan sat with his back to the wall, his head between his knees, his breaths rapid and shallow. He suddenly felt light-headed and nauseous, his stomach contracting violently. Scrambling across the bathroom floor, he barely made it to the toilet bowl before he vomited up his lunch. He sat by the bowl for several minutes as he gathered his thoughts and tried unsuccessfully to calm down. No matter what he tried, he couldn’t get the images out of his head. He picked himself up off the floor and leant over the sink, washing his face and rinsing his mouth out. Opening the medicine cabinet, he took a small pill canister from the top shelf and popped the top. The canister had his name on a prescription label fixed to it.
Four years ago, after being released from hospital, he had been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder. Since then he had been on and off medication to help him cope with the condition as well as seeing a child-psychiatrist once a month. Until recently, he’d been doing well, hardly needing to take any of the bitter tasting pills. However, with everything that had happened over the last two months; the nightmares, the encounters with the supernatural, and his brother’s reappearance in his life; he had started to need the pills more and more. Tipping one of the small white pills into his palm, he quickly swilled it down, grimacing at its taste. He stood there, breathing deeply for several minutes as the medication began to take effect, gradually calming him.
There was a gentle knock on the bathroom door. “Ryan, you alright?” It was Trey.
“I’m fine,” Ryan said sighing, “I wish people would stop asking me that and leave me alone.” There was a creak from the floorboards on the other side of the door; Trey wasn’t taking the hint. “What do you want?”
“I got a new DVD from the shops today, I … er …. Do you want to watch it with me?” Ryan unlocked the door and saw Trey standing there holding a shrink-wrapped DVD. Its cover was colourful, full of cartoon characters. The movie didn’t look like something he would usually watch, but Trey looked so earnest. “I’ve got toffee popcorn?” Trey said hopefully.
“You know what squirt,” he said taking the DVD from Tray and ruffling his already messy blond hair, “you sold me on it. Grab some soda from the fridge and meet me upstairs.”
“Awesome!” Trey said beaming. He turned and ran to the kitchen, almost tripping down the stairs.
“Trey,” Ryan heard Sue half-yell downstairs, “what have I told you about running in the house?”
Ryan chuckled quietly to himself as he shook his head and climbed the wooden stairs into the attic. A few years ago, when the Johnson’s had started to take on foster children, the attic had been converted into a games and media room. There was a large flat screen TV connected to an Xbox in one corner of the attic. Ryan went over to the console and turned it and the TV on, putting the DVD into the drive. He settled onto the large sofa facing the screen, making himself comfortable. A few minutes later, Trey came bounding up the stairs into the attic carrying a six-pack of cola, two bags of popcorn and a large bowl. The twelve-year-old almost leapt onto the sofa as Ryan pressed play. Munching on the popcorn, Ryan looked over at Trey and yawned. It was late and he was already feeling a little drowsy, but right now he could forget about everything that had happened and just be a normal kid for a while; something that he wouldn’t trade for the world.
Sometime later, Anthony slowly crept up the stairs into the attic. The boys had been up here for a couple of hours and things had become quiet. Before he turned in, he wanted to check on them to make sure Ryan was ok. He poked his head over the top of the stairs and saw that the DVD was on its menu screen. Slowly walking over to the sofa, he saw Ryan sprawled back on it; his mouth agape and his head leaning back as he snored quietly. Trey was leaning against him, also asleep. Ryan’s arm was draped around the smaller boy’s shoulder. Anthony smiled at the scene as he picked up the remote and turned the TV off. He went over to a cupboard and pulled out a blanket, placing it over the two boys, he decided not to disturb them. Anthony paused at the top of the stairs, turning as he reached to switch off the light. Ryan stirred, mumbling something in his sleep. There was a small, contented smile on the older boy’s face. He left them there, sleeping peacefully, and went back downstairs. Sue was already getting ready for bed. She looked up as her husband entered the room, a question on her face. “I think he’s going to be fine,” Anthony said in answer.
Ryan tossed and turned in the bed, caught in the throes of a nightmare. He was drenched with sweat, throwing off the bed covers with every violent twist and turn. In his nightmare, he saw a confusing mishmash of images. On old and imposing stone building on the bank of the Thames, a pair of yellow eyes and a scaled claw, his old home back in Truro, a dusty and ornate mirror locked in an attic, Cliffport’s beach fracturing into a thousand pieces, and the sensation of falling through darkness towards a circle of fire. A sinister hooded figure towered over him as he fell, laughing as he screamed.
He woke with a yell, sitting up in the bed. Heart racing, he flopped back down onto his pillow. He tried to pace his breathing, calming himself down but it was difficult. The nightmare was still fresh in his mind. Glancing at his watch, he saw that it was the early hours of Saturday morning. “Get out of my head,” he whispered lightly thumping the side of his head as he lay there. He’d suffered from nightmares ever since the night of the fire, but lately they seemed to be increasing in frequency and intensity. Ryan lay there for another hour trying to forget the nightmare before he fell asleep again.
The next morning, a bleary-eyed Ryan pulled himself out of bed. Despite still being fatigued from the restless night, he still managed to get himself down to the bus station before the others. Today was the day of “The Big Trip” as Tommy had taken to calling it. They had been planning it for most of the last week. It wasn’t that big of a trip really, just a bus ride into nearby Plymouth to go see a movie, get something to eat and generally hang out for the day. He slouched back on the wooden bench; his eyes closed listening to the sound of the traffic, the gulls over head and the gentle sound of water washing against the beach.
Ben, Jason and Tommy emerged from an alley across the road from the bus station. Since they all lived in East Cliffport, they had met in the park and walked down to the lower town together. As they crossed the road, Ryan cracked open his eyes at the sound of their voices. “Hey guys.”
Jason waved as they reached the bus stop. “Geez Ryan, you look rough,” he said as he saw the shadows around Ryan’s eyes.
“Yeah,” Ryan said as he yawned and stretched, “bad night. Didn’t get much sleep.”
“You still up the movie?” Ben asked.
“Are you kidding?” Ryan said sitting up, “I’ve been looking forward to this movie for months.”
The weekend bus service in Cornwall left much to be desired, especially outside the major towns and they had at least half an hour before the next bus was due. Across the road from the bus stop was a coffee shop; one of those soulless multinational brands that seemed to spread everywhere like a virus, even here in the heart of rural England, overcharging for the foul tasting “fair trade” liquid they called coffee. Ethical considerations aside, Ryan suddenly felt the urge to have large amounts of caffeine injected into his bloodstream. However, since that treatment was currently unavailable on the NHS, a large cup of coffee would have to suffice. Taking advantage of the long wait until the next bus, the four boys descended on the coffee shop, Ryan ordering something with lots of caffeine and very little milk in an attempt to “jump-start” his system. Refreshed or caffeinated, they hurried back to the bus stop just in time to see bus round the corner.
Sitting in the back corner as the boys left the coffee shop; a pale-skinned man got up and put a still full disposable cup of coffee into a nearby bin. He followed them out of the shop and watched them board the bus and depart. Seth squinted and flinched involuntarily as he stepped out into the sunlight. “This is going to take a little getting used to,” he said putting on a pair of cheap sunglasses. Across the road from the vampire, Ryan boarded the bus with his friends oblivious to the fact that he was being watched. Walking over to the car park next to the train station, Seth smiled as the bus pulled away. He’d overheard the boys’ conversation so he knew exactly where they were going; all he needed to do was to get Ryan by himself. “This is almost too easy,” he said with confidence.
The bus ride into Plymouth took nearly an hour as the bus drove along the winding country roads following the line of coast rather than journeying inland to take the dual-carriage way into Plymouth. They nipped inland every couple of miles as the roads passed through small villages or by one of the numerous holiday resorts that lined the Cornish southern coast. With bright May sunshine filtering through dappled, puffball clouds, the scenery they passed through on the journey was breathtaking. As they passed through the village of Crafthole, they cut inland across the Rame Peninsular arriving in the Cornish town of Torpoint on the banks of the River Tamar. Only a short chain ferry ride later, and they were in Plymouth on the Devon side of the river.
By the time the bus pulled in to the bus station, it was midday and they had less than fifteen minutes to get to the cinema. They darted across the busy road that ran alongside the bus station and into the nearby shopping centre. Weaving in and out of the throng of shoppers, they ran as fast as they could through the centre, at one point ducking around a concession stand to avoid the ever-present gaze of the mall security. It didn’t matter that none of them were up to mischief, “rentacops” tended to see all teenagers the same way, potential troublemakers and shoplifters. As it was, one of the security guards yelled at Ryan and Jason to take off their caps and hoods as the boys ran past him. Like most shopping centres across the country in recent years, they had introduced a ban on wearing baseball caps and hoods. They got to the cinema on the far side of the shopping centre with just minutes to spare, grabbing the last few tickets for Iron Man, which had been selling fast since it had only opened that Friday.
“That was frickin awesome,” Ryan said in awe, almost stumbling out of the cinema in a daze. For over two hours, he had sat enraptured watching the action on the screen. As they walked towards the food court, Ryan wasn’t the only one geeking out over the movie. Ben seemed to have enjoyed it almost as much as him.
Sitting on a bench opposite the entrance to the cinema, Seth was pretending to read a book while waiting for Ryan to come out. Seeing them exit the cinema, he waited a minute before putting the stolen book down on the bench and following his target.
The food court was noisy, full of families and screaming kids running between tables. Like most such places, it was an arena of tables and benches surrounded by a ring of fast food outlets serving a variety of “food.” Burgers, chips, cheap curries, kebabs, pizza and subway sandwiches; all the types of food that gave nutritionists heart attacks. Suddenly very hungrily, Ryan attacked his burger and fries as they decided what to do next. “What about HMV?” Jason suggested. “There’s a couple of CDs I wanna get that I can’t get back home.”
“Is that the one by the Pavilions?” Ben asked and Jason nodded. “Do you mind if we pop into Chimera Games on the way? I need some new minis for Wednesday’s game.”
“And I wouldn’t mind checking out the new comics,” Ryan said with a mouthful of fries.
A look passed between Tommy and Jason. “As if that’s the only thing you’ll be ‘checking out’.” Tommy said laughing.
Ryan paused, a handful of fries poised just in front of his mouth. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Jason snorted. “The girl behind the counter dude, I seen the way you look at her. She’s pretty cute for a geek.”
“Shut up.” Jason ducked as Ryan chucked his remaining fries at him. “It’s not like that. And just because she works in a gaming store, it doesn’t make her a geek,” Ryan explained, “her dad owns the store and she just helps out on weekends and on the school holidays.”
Ben nudged Ryan with his elbow, “Sounds like you’ve gotten to know her pretty well.” Ryan started blushing, failing to find the words for an effective retort.
“Dude, why don’t you just ask her out?” Tommy asked.
Ryan suddenly pushed his chair back from the table and stood up. “I gotta go.”
“Hey wait,” Ben said, “we were only joking.”
Ryan turned back towards the table with a faintly bemused expression on his face. “Erm … noooo,” he said slowly, “I gotta go … to the toilet.”
“Oh … oh,” said Ben, realising what Ryan had meant, “we’ll be over by the cash machines outside.”
Across the food court, Seth was sitting at a table that a family had kindly vacated for him when he had “asked” them too. He scowled as he sat there, trying to eavesdrop on the boys’ conversation but the food court was too noisy. Even with his enhanced hearing, he was unable to pick up more than a few stray words above the racket caused by the hundreds of people. As he watched, he saw Ryan get up from the table heading towards the toilets. “This is it,” Seth thought getting up and heading in the same direction; the toilets were near one of the exits and around the corner. The boy’s friends would lose sight of him making it much easier for Seth to remove him without their interference. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ryan’s friends get up from the table. Seth froze but he was relieved when they started walking in the opposite direction away from Ryan.
Ryan flushed the toilet and stepped out of the cubicle. As he walked over to the sink, he was suddenly grabbed from behind. Span around, he was shoved backwards into the wall, hitting its tiled surface hard. Ryan yelled in shock and pain, lashing out at the man gripping him by the shoulders. He beat at the man’s tattooed and muscular arms to no effect.
Seth frowned; the brat was making too much noise; he needed to get this finished quickly before any busybodies tried to interfere. The vampire grabbed Ryan’s flailing fists and pinned them with one hand above the boy’s head. With his other hand, he stifled Ryan’s cries, clamping it over the boy’s mouth. Using his grip on his jaw, he forced Ryan to look at him, his eyes meeting the boy’s eyes. Eyes that betrayed the fear the boy was in.
For his part Ryan continued to struggle but as their eyes met, his body froze. As hard as he tried, he couldn’t move a single muscle, nor could he muster enough energy to scream from behind the hand. It was as if he had suddenly become completely paralysed.
Seth learned forward, smiling slightly. “Listen up kid,” he whispered quietly into Ryan’s left ear, “if you don’t want me to hurt you any more than I have to, you are going to do exactly what I say.”
At that moment, the door to the toilets opened and two men in their mid-twenties walked in. They froze at the door as they saw a tall and well-built man pinning a terrified boy to the wall, a hand over the boy’s mouth preventing him from calling for help. “What the hell?” One of them said taking a step forward. Seth turned to face him, snarling in anger. As he did so, his concentration slipped and his hold over Ryan’s mind faltered. Ryan suddenly felt able to move again and he wasted no time, viciously kneeing his attacker in the groin. Seth grunted and lost his grip; Ryan wriggled free and ran for the door, barrelling past the men.
Seth recovered just in time to see Ryan disappear through the door. He turned towards the door, intent on following his quarry but the two men moved to stand in his way. One of them pulled out a knife with a long serrated blade, brandishing it in the manner of someone skilled and experienced in its use. “You aint going nowhere mate until you tell us what you were doing to that kid.”
“I haven’t got time for this shit.” He barged between the men, shoving them aside effortlessly with enhanced strength. One of them struck the mirror above the sink, cracking the shatterproof glass as he struck it headfirst. The other man flew into one of the stalls and the door broke off its hinges with the impact. Rather than finishing off the two men, Seth simply left them lying stunned on the floor and left the toilets. Standing outside, the vampire scanned the food court but he couldn’t see Ryan; the boy had melted into the crowd. “Shit,” he muttered under his breath as he headed towards the nearest exit.
Ryan stumbled down the escalator towards the street frantically looking over his shoulder. He ducked behind a phone box just as the man who had attacked him stopped at the top of the escalator looking out across the street. A short distance away, not far from where he was hiding was his friends. He looked again towards the top of the escalator.
As he stood the top of the escalator, looking out over the busy street, he saw the boy peer out from behind a phone box. Seth smiled and began to force his way down the escalator. Realising that he had been spotted, the boy bolted, running down the street. Seth looked ahead and saw where the boy was running, directly towards his friends. The vampire knew that for the time being at least, he’d missed his opportunity to grab the kid. He’d have to back off and wait for another opportunity.
As Tommy and Jason messed around on the back seat of the bus, Ben looked over at Ryan. His friend was staring out of the window, ignoring the conversation. Ben suspect that he wasn’t really looking at anything. He had been quiet since they had left the food court and had seemed distracted. Ben got up and sat down in the vacant seat next to Ryan. He didn’t seem to notice so Ben put a hand on Ryan’s shoulder. When he did so, he was surprised when Ryan jumped at his touch; a reaction he’d never seen from Ryan before. “You ok Ry?”
Ryan blinked a couple of times, released a sigh and seemed to collapse into the seat. “I’m fine,” he grunted.
“You sure? You’ve been a little distant.”
“I said I’m fine,” Ryan snapped turning back to the window.
Ben’s expression hardened. “Be that way then.” He got up and rejoined Tommy and Jason.
“What’s his problem?” Ryan heard Jason whisper behind him.
He sat in silence for the rest of the bus ride back into Cliffport. Lost in thought, he barely waved goodbye as they parted ways at the bus stop leaving Ryan to walk back home alone. Clouds had gathered and the sun was beginning to sink. Already it was grazing the tops of the hills surrounding Cliffport casting much of the town in an evening shadow. A chill wind was blowing in from the Channel. He trudged through the town, walking alongside the river towards the footbridge. Ryan was still shaken by the earlier events and he couldn’t get the man’s face out of his mind, the curse of having an eidetic memory.
Walking on autopilot, he eventually found himself on the breakwater having absent-mindedly wandered past the footbridge. Ryan wearily sat down for a few moments of rest, legs dangling over the edge of the quayside. He picked up a flat stone, tossed it once in his hand, and threw it across the water watching as it skimmed several times across the surface. Its simple motion caused a small smile to form on his face as he sent another stone skimming across the water. Several years ago, on a hot Saturday evening during the summer school holidays, Ryan and his father had sat on the banks of the River Truro skimming stones just like this. A perfect summer memory, one of the last before his life changed.
A chill suddenly overcame him, interrupting the pleasant memory as a shiver ran down his spine. The streetlights were starting to flick on along the sea front and evening was beginning to set in. Standing up, he pulled up his hood and starting walking back towards the footbridge with his hands stuffed into the hoodie’s front pouch. The sound of footsteps on stone caused him to look up. A figure had stepped onto the breakwater heading towards him. The man stopped a dozen feet away and looked up. As the light from the streetlight illuminated the man’s face Ryan froze, his heart starting to race. The man was the one that had attacked him in Plymouth; he’d followed him back to Cliffport. Glancing around, Ryan suddenly realised that the breakwater and seafront was completely deserted. He was alone with the man.
Seth smiled as he saw the fear flash across the boy’s face. He cracked his knuckles as he looked at the boy. “You should’ve come quietly when you had the chance kid. Now, I’m gonna beat you to a pulp and you’ll still be coming with me.”
Ryan took a step back. “What do you want with me?” As he said this, the smile on the face of the man in front of him widened. His incisor teeth, already pointed, elongated into inch-long fangs. Bone ridges seemed to form under the skin, accenting the area around the eyes and cheekbone. The sudden physical transformation shocked Ryan and the boy stumbled backwards. One word flashed through his mind, “vampire.” As the vampire’s eyes briefly glowed from within, Ryan realised why he had been unable to move when he had been grabbed earlier that day. The vampire must have hypnotised him somehow.
“Right now,” Seth said, “I’ll settle for just hearing you beg for mercy.” He started running towards the boy, intent on ramming him to the floor.
As the adrenaline began to course through him, Ryan shook off the shock as he began to realise the danger he was in. He prepared himself for a fight, one that his life may depend on. The vampire was charging towards him and Ryan ran forward. At the last moment, just as Seth was about to strike, Ryan dropped to the floor into a crouch and rolled forward. Seth was moving too quickly and was surprised by his quarry’s unorthodox manoeuvre. He stumbled into Ryan, tripping over him and falling to the floor. Ryan continued his roll, rolling onto his feet and turning to face the vampire. As the vampire scrambled to his feet, Ryan pivoted on one foot bringing the other around in a spin-kick. The vampire was too fast, he saw they attack coming. Seth grabbed Ryan’s foot, moving almost too fast for Ryan’s eyes to follow. The boy twisted in mid-air, wrenching his foot free from the vampire’s grip as his free foot whipped around and struck the vampire on the face. Landing on his feet, he followed the kick with a two-fisted punch to the vampire’s chest. Seth reeled backwards under the assault, taken by surprise by the boy’s skill and completely unprepared for the ferocity of the attack. He decided to take the “kid gloves” off and start treating this seriously but before he got a chance to retaliate, the boy had turned and fled.
Ryan had quickly realised that he was no match for the vampire; the man was too fast for him. As the vampire shook itself out of its daze, Ryan ran along the breakwater towards the town desperate to put as much distance between him and the creature. He ran through car park the lay between the breakwater and the rest of the town, the floodlights and CCTV cameras offering a brief illusion of safety.
“Shit,” Seth thought, “this kid is fast.” He’d been surprised by the boy’s speed, but he’d been more surprised by the kick. There had been no mention of karate lessons or martial arts training in the file that Mark had given him. It was obvious though that Ryan had more than just a little skill in the art of self-defence. When he dragged the boy back to London, he’d be having words with his brother about this. Despite the head start, Seth was catching up with the boy as they entered the car park. He knew that despite this, if the boy managed to get into town it would be next to impossible to grab him without causing a scene but, Seth had had enough of this job. At this point the vampire didn’t have a problem with leaving a few mutilated corpses if it meant finally getting the job done. However, if everything was in place like it was supposed to, it wouldn’t come to that. Seth had an ace up his sleeve.
Ryan ran across the car park, glancing behind him as he ran. Although the vampire chasing him was gaining, Ryan was confident that he could stay ahead of him long enough to reach the high street. Hopefully there, amongst the restaurants and pubs along the main road through town, he’d manage to find some help. Ryan darted around the side of a white van straight into an oncoming fist. The fist struck him the abdomen and he collapsed to his knees struggling to breath. As Ryan looked up to see who had hit, something hard struck him on the back of the head. White pain flashed across his vision and he slumped to the floor unconscious.
Seth walked over to where his partner, Jared, was standing over the Ryan’s unconscious form. Sneering in contempt, the vampire kicked the boy in the side. He was about to kick him again, this time in the head when Jared grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him aside. “Hey, you said we needed the brat alive and in one piece.”
“Shut it, blood bag, he’ll still be alive after I’ve finished.” Seth said as he shook himself free.
“Hey, as much as I’d enjoy seeing you whale on some kid, perhaps here and now aint the best time and place?” Jared saw the conflicting emotions and desires flash across Seth’s face before the vampire realised that Jared was probably right.
“Fine, I can wait.” Seth picked Ryan up and slung him over his shoulder as Jared opened the van’s side door.
“Hey fugly,” a voice yelled out from across the car park, “leave him alone!” Seth and Jared turned around to see a blond-haired young man slide over the bonnet of a car and start running towards them. Daniel pulled his doubled-bladed boomerang formed by a pair of connected knives with long curved blades and serrated edges from his belt and charged towards the pair.
Seth turned to Jared with a bemused look on his face. “You got this one?” Jared shrugged and pulled the pistol tucked into his pants that he’d used to knock Ryan out. Quickly aiming it, he pulled the trigger three times in quick succession and Daniel crumpled to the floor. “We better go, somebody might’ve heard that.” Said Seth as he roughly threw Ryan into the van and got in with him. Jared scooted around Seth and climbed into the driver’s seat.
From behind a nearby stone bench, Ben watched as the van tore out of the car park, its wheels squealing. Ryan’s attitude on the bus had worried him, although the terse brush off had annoyed him. Something had obviously been bothering him, something that his friend had felt unable to talk about. So, after saying goodbye to Tommy and Jason, he had doubled back intending to head over to Ryan’s house to talk to him. By chance, his route through the town had taken him along the seafront and he had seen Ryan’s confrontation with the man on the breakwater. Ben had been ready to run over and help when he’d seen the other man with the gun. He was ashamed to admit to himself that he’d been scared and that his fear had made him hide. From his hiding place, he had done nothing but watch his friend get ambushed and knocked to the floor. Then, a man had appeared out of nowhere, charging across the car park to the rescue only to be shot.
As soon as the van had left, he emerged from behind the bench and ran over to the man lying on the floor and knelt next to him. He wasn’t moving, and there were three bullet holes in the man’s t-shirt. Ben pulled his mobile out of his pocket and started to dial 999. Daniel’s hand suddenly reached out and grabbed Ben’s hand, stopping him from dialling. “Don’t,” he said coughing.
“But … you were shot!” Ben said stumbling backwards to sit on his behind.
Daniel sat up groaning. “Yeah, I hate it when that happens.” He lifted up his shirt to reveal a bullet-proof vest with three bullets embedded in its front. “That’s why I wear this.”
“What about my friend?” Ben asked. “Those men took him!”
Standing up, Daniel looked down at the young boy sitting at his feet. There was something familiar about him but Daniel couldn’t put his finger on it. Regardless the boy looked worried. “The police can’t help your friend. If anything, they might put him in even more danger.” He said trying to reassure him. “But that doesn’t mean that no one’s going to help him.”
Had a geography exam on Monday, finished early so started doodling in my notebook. One of the doodles caught my eye and when I got home I decided to do a proper version.
It was of the main character Ryan Henderson the Ryan’s Story series. Until now, I’ve pretty much drawn him in warm bulky clothing. Decided to try something more “summery.” Like this, I suppose he looks more like a skater and less like an emo kid. This particular version of the character is taken from a future point in the story after he gets a new skateboard and tattoo. The tattoo (which since he is only fourteen was done illegally) is a ritual tattoo. Its magic protects Ryan from hostile magics like curses. He gets it sometime after part 9 (which is the part after the one I’m currently writing). His foster parents weren’t exactly pleased when they found out.
I’m also planning on using it for a supers game. In that game, the character (Alex McCendrick) will have the ability to “summon” a magical sword by pulling the image of it off the bottom of his skateboard which also becomes a shield in the process. Not thought too much about THIS character apart from whats written above. That said, I may use the sword idea for Ryan as well.
Click for the full version
The man looked up from the coolbox at the sounds of laughter as two boys ran into the back garden. “Ryan,” he said addressing the seven-year-old, “put down that bucket of water and stop chasing your brother.”
“But dad, he started it,” the small boy pouted as he pointed at his older brother, “he threw the sponge at me.” There was a large wet patch on the front of his t-shirt where soapsuds soaking into the cotton.
“Mark, is that true?” He asked, turning to his other son.
“Kinda,” the fourteen-year-old said guiltily scratching his head and smiling.
“In that case,” he said smiling in return, “then it is the decision of this court that the punishment be a ritual soaking.” He turned to younger brother who was gleefully smiling. “Mr Henderson, please carry out the sentence on behalf of the court.” Ryan quickly picked up the bucket, and with an evil grin on his face, threw the contents at Mark. The older boy gasped as the tepid soapy water struck him in the chest, soaking him.
“I’ll get you for that,” Mark said in mock-threat, chasing Ryan. The two brothers ran across the grass towards the back door, Mark finding it difficult to keep up with his younger brother. Ryan’s escape route was barred as the back door was opened and their mother stood their holding a tray of buns, uncooked beef burgers and sausages. Ryan darted to the side but Mark caught up with him, pulling the small boy into a headlock.
“That’s enough you two,” their dad said as their mum put the tray down next to the barbecue. “Remember our deal guys, no barbecue until you wash the car.”
“Awwww,” Ryan whined.
“Come on you,” Mark said grabbing Ryan’s hood and almost lifting his little brother of the floor, “we got a car to rinse and I’m starving.” The small boy yelped as he was dragged through side gate back to the driveway. Just a few minutes later, the sounds of squeals could be heard from the driveway.
Paul and Tracy looked at each other. “Hosepipes,” they said simultaneously.
Out front, the two brothers sprayed each other with the hoses, drenching themselves and the car. Thoroughly soaked, they turned their hoses back on the car and washed off the soapsuds. Mark noticed that his brother has hopping from foot to foot leaning on his tiptoes. “Do you need the toilet or something?”
Ryan nodded, “Uh huh, I gotta go bad.”
“Well,” Mark said rolling his eyes, “you’re a big boy now; you don’t need permission or anything to have a piss.” Ryan dropped his hose and ran into the house. Mark couldn’t help but squirt his hose at the ground just behind his brother’s feet, chasing him up the path. After finishing washing the car, ¬
Mark went into the back garden where his dad had already started the barbecue and first batch of burgers were on the grill. After a few minutes, the sizzling slabs of meat were ready. With a rumbling stomach, he greedily tucked into the first off the grill.
“Where’s your brother?” His mum asked as she drenched one of the burgers in ketchup, just the way Ryan liked it.
“He’s on the toilet,” he said with a mouthful of meat.
“Hmm, the toilet flushed five minutes ago,” she said looking up at the closed bathroom window. “Could you go and check on him?” Mark started to protest but his mother’s expression warned him that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.
Grumbling, he got out of the garden chair and tromped across the garden and into the house. He had a good idea where Ryan had gotten to and as he approached the top of the stairs, he realised that he was right. Mark crept quietly up to his bedroom door, avoiding all the floorboards that creaked. A skill he had developed sneaking out at night without alerting his parents. Peering around the doorframe Mark saw his brother sitting at the foot of Mark’s bed holding a skateboard and playing with its wheels. Mark stepped into the doorway, leant against the frame and cleared his throat. Ryan stood up quickly, dropping the skateboard.
“Mark! I was just … er …” Ryan stammered guiltily. Despite how close the two brothers were, Ryan knew that Mark didn’t like people being in his room uninvited.
“You’ve been eyein’ my board for the last three weeks,” Mark said interrupting him. Ryan looked at the floor, his hands fiddling with the bottom of his t-shirt. “Guess I better teach you how to use it properly before you break your neck.”
Ryan looked back up, a hopeful look on his face. “You mean it?” Mark nodded. Ryan’s face lit up and the small boy threw himself at Mark and hugged him. “Thank you thank you thank you,” he said repeatedly. Mark lifted his little brother into a piggyback and started downstairs.
“Come on squirt, dinner first.”
Seven years later…
Mark rubbed the stubble on his chin and looked down at the photo of his brother. It had been taken through a telephoto lens and it showed him skating along, headphones on and school bag on his back oblivious to the fact that was being watched. The photo brought back memories from when he had decided to teach his little brother how to skate. Ryan had taken to it like a monkey to bananas. He put the photo down and looked at the others. One showed his brother sitting on a packed boat with a hundred other teenagers wearing life jackets. Another photo showed him sitting on a wall with a group of friends enjoying an ice cream cone in the hot sun. Over a dozen photos had been taken over the previous week. Most of them were of his brother but a few were detail shots of his friends and foster family showing everyone important in his brother’s life.
“You did good work,” he said to the man across the table from him. They were sitting in a dingy back alley pub in the East End of London; the type of pub where shady deals could be made with fear of questions being asked. The poor lighting and loud music masking any such deals being made.
The man took a sip from his pint. “You paid me well.”
“So,” Mark said putting the photos back on the table, “apart from these what else did my money get?”
“Quite a lot actually,” the man said smirking. He reached under the table, pulled a folder out of his bag, and placed it on the table. When the man opened it, Mark could see that it was full of official looking documents. “If you know the right people and have enough money, you can learn a lot about anyone.”
The man shuffled through the papers, picking out the key points. “Well, the kid’s had it rough the last few years. Lost his family in a home invasion in 2004, probably where he got that scar on his neck. Spent a while in hospital afterwards before being put into care. In 2005, he was back in hospital after a failed suicide attempt.”
“Suicide?” Mark said looking up from the papers.
“Er … first time with foster parents. By all accounts not exactly the role model type. Viewed their foster kids as a source of government cheques by all accounts. It happened a year to the day after the death of his family. No support at home, bullied like heck at his new school, he tried to hang himself but was found before it was too late. As it was, he was already unconscious when they cut him down. Foster parents dumped him back on social services as soon as he was out of hospital.”
“Harsh,” Mark said although inwardly he was cursing. If only that help had been a few minutes slower.
“Yeah, anyway, he’s had seven foster families in four years, failing at school …” The part about his brother failing at school piqued Mark’s interest. The Ryan he remembered was smart, even at just ten-years-old he’d stood out at primary school. “… was in a car accident a couple of months ago. Took a header into the bay but didn’t suffer any major injuries. Ran away from home last month, but was only gone for a day.”
Mark blinked, impressed at the depth of information the man had discovered. “Anything else.”
“Well, despite having more reason than most kids his age to go off the rails, he’s managed to keep his nose clean. Well, except for the fact that he’s got a few secrets.” He passed a fuzzy black and white photo. Unlike the others, it had been taken at night using a low-light camera. In the centre of the frame, Mark could just make out his brother climbing down the drainpipe outside his bedroom window. “Took this night before last. Don’t know where he went but he was gone a couple of hours.”
Mark smiled. “Used to do that myself when I was your age,” he said quietly, barely audible above the booming music. He cleared his throat and shuffled through the papers and photos. “Here’s what I owe you,” he said taking a fat brown envelope from inside his jacket. The man opened the envelope and quickly counted the stack of used notes within.
Satisfied, the man picked up his coat and bag. “If you need anything else Jim, you’ve got my number.” The man left the pub. A few moments after he had left, another man walked over from the bar and sat down opposite Mark.
“I take it you heard everything Seth?” Mark asked not looking up.
Seth smirked, his lips parting to reveal a set of fangs. He looked down the photos, picking one of them up. “This him? Good looking kid, what he do to piss you off?”
“You think you can handle him?” Mark asked him impatiently.
Seth leafed through the papers. “Sure thing, he’s just a kid right? No funky powers or shit?” Mark nodded. “Then he should be a pushover.”
“Good. This ritual you want as payment is difficult. Giving a vampire immunity to sunlight ‘aint like slapping on factor 500 sun block. It’s going to take a considerable amount of mojo to pull it off and I don’t want to be wasting my time on some fang banger who can’t deal with one 14-year-old kid.”
The vampire laughed. “Like I said, no worries.”
“Anyway,” Mark said not entirely convinced, “just get your arse down to circle on Friday night for the first part of ritual.”
“First part?” Seth said interrupting.
“Yeah, the first part. I’m not going to give you permanent immunity until you deliver my brother to me alive and in one piece. Until then, you get 24 hours cumulative immunity.”
“Fair enough.” Seth put the photos and papers into the file and stood up. “You better be on the level though. I know you got a rep in the scene and all, but you screw me on this deal and it’ll be you that ends up dead.” The vampire walked out of the pub and into the night. Mark waited a few minutes before taking a photo out of his jacket pocket. It was the one of his little brother skating along. He looked at it intently as he finished his pint.