Blog Archives

An Unlikely Hero – Issue 1

an-unlikely-heroSam 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.”

“What?”

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.

Advertisements

Ryan’s Story – The Curse

awww-innee-cuteThe 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.”

Ryan’s Story – The Shift


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?”

“No miss.”

“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.

“Detention again?”

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.”

“I did.”

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?”

Ryan’s Story – The Runaway

 “Jake Matthews please report to the principal’s office.” Jake looked up from his workbook as the message came over the PA. Suddenly everyone in the class was looking at him.

“Dude,” Spud whispered sitting next to him, “whatever you did you are so busted for it.”

“There’s no way they could’ve found out about that,” Jake whispered out of the side of his mouth.

“Well, you heard the disembodied voice,” the teacher said at the front of the class with little enthusiasm, “better take your things in case you’re not back before the end of the lesson.” Jake quickly packed away his workbook and pen, picked up his school bag and walked the dead-man’s walk across the classroom, every pair of eyes in the room following him as he walked through the door.

As he jogged across the quad separating the classroom blocks with the main building, keeping to the trees in a vain attempt to stay dry despite the rain, Jake mentally ticked off a list of things that he had done recently. He shrugged of the raindrops as he entered the main building and arrived at the principal’s office. Ms Cunningham, the principal’s secretary showed him into the office. Sitting there, waiting for him was the principal and a policeman.

“Relax; you’re not in any trouble.” Was that a hint of sarcasm Jake was detecting? “Officer Ballard here just wants to ask you a few questions.” Jake nervously sat down in the other chair.

“Good afternoon son,” Ballard said by way of greeting, “I understand from Mr and Mrs Johnson that you’re friends with one of their foster children, Ryan. Is that correct?”

Jake nodded, “uh huh.”

“When did you last see him?”

“Erm, I think it was on the boat after school yesterday.”

“Are you sure,” Jake nodded, “how was he.”

“Well, he was a little distant, like he was preoccupied with something. We usually meet up at lunch but I couldn’t find him.”

Officer Ballard jotted some notes on his notepad. “And what about before yesterday?”

“What’s with all the questions about Ryan, he’s not in any trouble is he.” Jake was more than a little concerned now. He had only known Ryan for two months and only been friends with him for half that time. There was still a lot he didn’t know about the younger boy but he did know one thing. Ryan had a strong moral compass and he knew right from wrong. Jake found it hard to believe that Ryan had done anything worthy of police attention. A look passed between Ballard and the principal.

“Ryan’s gone missing.”

—-

Early last night…

As Trey and his friends continued their game, Ryan watched from the bedroom window. In one respect at least, Mark had kept his word, Trey had no memory what Ryan’s older brother had done to him. Turning away from the window, he went back to his bed and pulled a large bag from underneath it. Scared that his brother might one day find him, he had always kept an “emergency bag” packed in case he ever needed to leave in a hurry. The events of the last 24 hours had shown Ryan that Mark knew where he was living. It was only a matter of time before Mark showed up in one form or another to finish the job he started four years ago. It was because of this that he had made his decision to leave.

He knew that leaving would be dangerous, he had no childish illusions that it would turn out to be a Grand Adventure like it always was in the storybooks and movies. However, if he stayed, he would be putting the people he had come to care about at risk. Mark had already proven once with Trey that he was perfectly willing to get at Ryan using those around him.

Ryan opened up the bag and checked the contents. As always, the clothes were packed tightly in the bottom of the bag. Tough, hard wearing and weather proof, with luck they should be warm enough. On top of the clothes sat an envelope inside of which was nearly two hundred pounds in cash that he had saved over the years. As well as the money, there were several leaflets; timetables for the local train and bus services which he had gathered shortly after arriving in Cliffport. Everything was set, as it had been for the past two months. He popped off the PC’s side cover and took out the antistatic bag. He had a feeling that he might need the book within so he carefully packed it in the bag. With everything packed and ready, he stowed the bag back under the bed, hidden behind a roll of spare blankets.

He sat down on his bed, wondering whether he should write a note to his foster parents. When he suddenly disappears during the night, Ryan knew that they would worry. Lying back on the bed, mentally composing a hypothetical note, he felt a lump under the bedcovers. It was the flick knife that Mark had used when threatening to cut Trey’s wrist. Attached to the knife was a note. It read, “See you soon” and it was signed “Mark.” Obviously, a parting gift left behind by Mark before he released the possession on Trey’s body. Ryan picked up the knife and the note. “Not if I have anything to say about it,” he said looking at the knife thoughtfully.

That night Ryan slept lightly, pretending to be ill so he could go to bed early wearing his street clothes before Trey turned in. At around two in the morning, he was woken by his watch’s vibrating alarm and he quietly slipped out of bed. Carefully picking up the bag, Ryan tiptoed across the bedroom carrying his trainers, making sure not to wake Trey as he opened the bedroom door. Only when he got downstairs did he stop to pull on his trainers. Before he did so, he took out the flick knife he had hidden in the left shoe. After he put his shoes on, he tucked the knife into his sock, hiding it under the bottom of his trousers. Ryan had never carried a knife before, he was all too intimately aware of the type of injury that they could inflict. However, tonight was different. He knew from the other children that he had met in the children’s home or in foster care that the streets were not a safe place for kids. Somehow, he knew the he was probably going to need some protection.

The night sky outside was clear and cloudless, the moon shining brightly amongst the twinkling stars. Closing the front door quietly, Ryan stepped out into the cold night air. There was no traffic on the walls and the only sound that could be heard was the surf washing against the base of the cliffs. Ryan hopped over the front gate, avoiding the horrendous squeal of its rusty hinges, stood on the pavement looking back at the darkened house. After a few moments of contemplation, Ryan set off towards the main road.

—-

Next morning…

The alarm clock buzzed incessantly, rousing Trey from a dreamless sleep. “Ryan, shut off the damn alarm clock!” When there was no answer, the boy lifted his head and looked across the bedroom. The bedcovers of Ryan’s bed were thrown aside but there was no sign of the bed’s former occupant. Glancing around the room, Trey could see that Ryan’s shoes were gone as was his coat. Assuming that Ryan was up and had already gotten ready for school, a reasonable assumption given that the older boy was often up before him, he grumpily got out of bed and began to get ready. As he pulled on a sweatshirt, he noticed a folded piece of paper on his desk with his name on it written in Ryan’s handwriting. Curious, he picked up the piece of paper and unfolded it. As he read the note, his eyes widened in shock and bolted out of the room.

Trey thundered down the stairs and skidded into the kitchen, narrowly avoiding Susan. “Trey, what have I told you about running in the house?” She said, almost dropping the cup of tea she was carrying.

“Ryan’s gone!” Trey blurted out.

“What do you mean gone?” She asked slightly confused, “has he left for school already?”

“No, he’s run away and he says he’s not coming back!” He cried, shoving the note into Susan’s hand.

—-

During morning lessons…

“What do you mean he’s gone missing?” Jake said, only just resisting the urge to jump to his feet.

The Principal cleared his throat, “The indications are that he has run away. Of course we’re very concerned for his safety.”

Jake slumped back into the chair. “I knew he’d been a little depressed lately, and he was acting funny yesterday but I didn’t think he’d do something like this.” Ballard jotted something down in his notepad as Jake spoke.

“Do you know if he was depressed about something in particular?” Before Jake could respond, Ballard’s radio squawked.

“Control to two-six-zero, come in.”

“Two-six-zero to control, go ahead.”

“Bill, we’ve just had a report forwarded to us from Liskeard saying that a youth matching the description of the Henderson boy was seen hitchhiking on the A38 earlier this morning.”

“Do we have any indication where he might be going?”

“No, the sighting was a couple of hours old by the time it was reported and he was already gone by the time a patrol car arrived but according to the report, he was by the westbound lane.”

—-

At that moment…

“Thanks mister,” Ryan said closing the car door and waving as it drove off down the road. He pulled up his hood and started walking into Truro, his hometown and the smallest city in the UK. This was where he had been born and lived up until that night four years ago. As he walked through the town, memories rose unbidden to the surface. He had bought his first skateboard from that sports shop. The restaurant over there had been where he had had his ninth birthday party. His friends had used to play in that playground. Now it was a block of luxury apartments.

After walking almost all the way across the town through the rain, he reached his destination, Truro’s cemetery. With some apprehension, he walked through the gate and began to make his way through the cemetery. It took nearly an hour of searching but he eventually found what he was looking for. Sitting down in front of the grave, he traced his fingers across the engraving on the tombstone. “In loving memory of Paul and Tracy Henderson, died 14th March 2004, along with their son Mark aged 16.” As his fingers crossed his brother’s name, Ryan felt the anger rise in him. Taking out the flick knife, he spent several minutes obliterating his brother’s name. The body buried in the grave was not his brother like everyone believed. Even if it was, after what Mark had done, he did not deserve to be buried with the parents he had murdered.

“Hi mum, dad, it’s been a long time. I should’ve come sooner, I know, but they wouldn’t let me out of hospital to come to the funeral and afterwards they moved me out of the area. I could’ve asked to visit, but I could never bring myself too. Guess I couldn’t face it you know? As long as I didn’t have to see a grave, I guess I could pretend, at least to myself that what happened that night didn’t really happen. But it did happen; I have to accept that because nothing is going to change it.” Ryan shivered and pulled his coat tighter around him in an attempt to ward off the rain. “I came here to say goodbye, I’ve got to go away and I don’t think I’ll ever have a chance to come here again. Mark’s found me and it’s only a matter of time before he comes for me. If it was just me it’d be bad enough but the people I’m staying with are good people. They’re the closest I’ve had to a family since, well, you know. Mark’s already used one of them to get to me. He didn’t hurt him but I can’t take the chance that he won’t next time. I’m going to head to London. It’s big enough that he won’t be able to find me there. It’s not going to be easy, but I have to do it.” He stood up, wiped his nose on the back of his sleeve and wiped away a few tears that had mixed with the raindrops on his face. “I’d ask you to watch over me, but if what I’ve learned over the last month is true, then you’re probably not in a position to help.” He picked up his backpack and fastened the waist strap. “I swear I will find out what Mark did and I’ll find a way to reverse it, that’s a promise.” Ryan turned to leave but he stopped himself. He turned back to the grave and knelt down. “And you,” he whispered addressing the body of his brother’s anonymous accomplice, “when I find a way to lift the pledge, I’m gonna make sure that you’re left burning in hell where you belong.”

—-

After leaving the cemetery, Ryan was walking through town with his head down on his way towards the bus station when a hooded teenage boy riding a BMX careened out of an alleyway, almost colliding with him. “Watch where you’re going dickhead,” the boy spat as he righted his bike.

“You watch it, you almost ran me over,” Ryan retorted stepping back. Anger briefly flashed across the other boy’s face, but it was quickly displaced by a quizzical expression, eyes narrowed.

“Ryan? Ryan Henderson?”

Ryan leaned forward, “Do I know … wait a minute, Doug?”

Doug jumped of his bike staring at Ryan incredulously, “Jesus, Ryan, I can’t believe it’s you!” Douglas Roberts had been Ryan’s best friend at primary school; the two boys had grown up together living on the same street. Ryan was the oldest of the pair by four months.

Ten minutes later they were sitting in a fast food restaurant. The man behind the counter had sneered disapprovingly at the two boys as they entered but had said nothing. “So where’ve you been? It’s been like four years.”

Ryan crammed a handful of fries into his mouth. “After the fire, social services thought it would be best if they moved me out of the area. Been bouncing around the foster care system ever since.” He pointed at Doug’s half-eaten box of chicken strips. “You gonna finish them?”

“Err, no, help yourself,” Doug said shrugging and pushing the box over to Ryan’s side of the table. “That sucks…” he paused as he leaned forward across the table and pushed the collar of Ryan’s jacket aside, ignoring the boy’s protest. Seeing the scar on Ryan’s neck, Doug whistled. “Whoa, that is an awesome looking scar. Did you get that from the guy that killed your family? Looks like he tried to take you head clean off!”

Ryan grimaced at his friend’s lack of tact. “Yes, the person that killed my parents gave me this scar. Now, can we change the subject?”

“Um sorry,” Doug said realising that he had broached a taboo subject, “So where’re you living now then?”

“A small town just down the coast from Plymouth called Cliffport.”

Doug snorted, “Cliffport, that boring little shit hole? Hang on; if you’re supposed to be in Cliffport what’re you doing here?”

“Erm…” Ryan began, as he struggled to come up with a believable excuse. Doug’s eyes strayed towards the oversized backpack on the seat next to Ryan. He suddenly understood the situation and started laughing.

“No way, you’ve pulled a runner haven’t you!” Ryan tried to quieten Doug down whose loud voice had started to draw unwanted attention. “So what’re you planning to do now?”

“Haven’t decided yet,” Ryan lied, “just had to hit the road for a while. I got some stuff I need to sort out in my head and I need some space to do it.”

“You need a place to crash or something ‘cos mine’s free?” Doug offered.

“What about your parents?”

“Nah, they’re not a problem. My old man split couple of years back, and mum works nights. She’d never notice. She don’t notice anything anymore.”

Ryan thought about the offer, it was tempting. “Sorry, but I’m not planning on being in town that long. You caught me on the way to the bus station.”

They eventually left the fast food restaurant; Ryan was getting uncomfortable at the looks they were getting from the few staff and customers. The two boys walked through the town catching and reminiscing about all the scrapes they used to get into. Talking to Doug, he was almost able to forget his problems.

As they were walking down a street, Doug suddenly shoved Ryan into an alleyway, a hand clamped over his mouth. Surprised by the sudden movement, yelled a muffled protest from behind Doug’s hand. “Shhh!” Doug hissed, indicated with a nod of his head towards the street. A police car leisurely cruised past the alleyway. When it disappeared from view, Doug removed his hand and breathed a sigh of relief.

“What the hell was all that about?” Ryan asked angrily.

“You finally fried that oversized brain of yours or something?” Doug responded, “The police have probably got your description already.”

“Nuh-uh.”

“Dude, you’re the like the poster child for a ‘vulnerable youth’ what with your history and everything. Cliffport plod probably sent your picture out as soon as they realised you’d gone.” Doug’s words caused Ryan to pause; he had assumed that he would have at least 24 hours grace before the police officially considered him missing.

“You think so?” Ryan asked, then a thought struck him, “and the fact that you should be in school had nothing to do with us ducking into an alley?”

Doug grinned. “School’s for muppets or brainiacs like you.”

Ryan’s face became serious and he placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Look Doug, I gotta go. I don’t wanna miss the last bus.”

“Take care of yourself buddy, ok,” Doug said pulling Ryan into an awkward adolescent hug, “see you around someday.”

“You too Doug, and stay out of trouble,” he said playfully pointing an accusatory finger, “I know you.”

—-

By the time Ryan had arrived at the bus station, the last National Express coach to London and the South East had already left. The next coach was not due to leave until the morning and it appeared that Ryan was stuck in Truro overnight.

Wandering through the town, he looked for somewhere to stay the night. Obviously commercial accommodation was out of the question. What kind of hotel or bed and breakfast would rent a room to an unaccompanied fourteen-year-old who paid in cash? His meandering route through Truro’s streets eventually brought him to a small industrial estate on the outskirts of town. In one corner of the estate, lying forgotten and fronted by a weed-ridden car park was a vacant warehouse. The company that used to own the industrial unit had gone bankrupt years before Ryan had moved away leaving behind an empty warehouse.

Ryan climbed through a hole in the chain-link fence surrounding the warehouse and quickly jogged across the cracked concrete heading for the loading dock. The fire door next to the dock was ajar, its lock still broken even after all these years. Slowly he walked inside, waiting a moment as his eyes adjusted to the gloom. The fire door led into a warren of corridors and partitioned offices that had once housed the company’s non-warehouse staff. Apart from the extra graffiti, the interior was just as he remembered it had been that one summer he and Doug had explored the derelict warehouse.

He ventured further into the offices, eventually reaching the former manager’s office. The room was dry and its roof was intact. It wasn’t much but it would have to do. Unrolling his sleeping bag under the abandoned desk, Ryan prepared to settle down for the night.

That night, his dreams were disturbed by images of fire and blood. A sinister hooded figure dominated the nightmare, its inhuman size and proportions causing the ground to tremble with every one of its steps. Ryan woke drenched in sweat still feeling the heat of the flames. “It’s just a dream,” he told himself, “get a grip.” He lay there, tossing and turning, unable to get back to sleep.

Not long after his watch beeped midnight, Ryan began to hear voices coming from nearby. The voices were punctuated by a scream, a high-pitched and desperate cry for help. She sounded young, probably not much older than Ryan. Her cry was cut short by the sound of flesh striking flesh. “Shut it bitch,” an angry male voice yelled. A door somewhere in the complex of offices slammed open and harsh laughter could be heard. From the noise they were making, Ryan could tell that there were at least three people with the girl.

With a cold feeling growing in his stomach, he realised that he was probably about to hear the girl being raped. He had to do something but charging in there like some sort of hero would be virtual suicide, it would be three against one and he was no Jackie Chan. There was a voice in the back of his mind. The same voice he had ignored four years ago, telling him to be quiet, stay hidden, to play it safe. As he stood up, he realised that just as before, he was going to ignore it.

“Told you this place was perfect,” one of the voices said, “no one knows about this place but me.” Ryan froze at the sound of Doug’s voice. He could not believe it, there was no way that his old friend would be involved in something like this. Maybe he did not know him as well as he had thought. After all, people can change a lot in four years.

The voices were getting nearer, heading towards the back office. Ryan reached down to take the knife out from under his sock when he stopped himself. “No,” he thought to himself, “using this is the sort of thing that Mark would do.” He instead put the knife into one of his pockets and looked around the room. Picking up a length of metal pipe, he took up position against the wall beside the door.

The door crashed open, kicked with such force that it almost broke the doorstop embedded in the floor. Any harder and it would have smashed into Ryan. Hidden behind the open door, Ryan watched as the girl was pushed into the room. Three thugs burst into the office behind her, two of them carrying flashlights. Two of them were teenagers in their late teens but the third, the one without a flashlight, was around Ryan’s age. All of them had the faces hidden behind hoods and bandanas but Ryan didn’t need to see his face to recognise his old friend. As one of the older boys held the girl down, Doug hurriedly unfastened his pants, egged on by his two friends. “Come on D,” the other older boy said, “if you want in, you gotta make her scream.” He was holding a mobile phone recording the scene using the phone’s camera as he addressed Doug who was now straddling the girl and struggling to undress her.

With everyone’s attention focused on the girl, Ryan decided that now was the best time to act. Stepping out from his hiding place, the pipe held above his head, he approached the group. With his back to Ryan, the impromptu cameraman didn’t see Ryan approach him, the pipe held above his head. He brought the pipe crashing down on the thug’s back. With a grunt, he dropped the cameraphone and stumbled forward, crashing into Doug. Before they had a chance to react to his sudden appearance, Ryan had slid across the top of the desk kicking the other older boy in the chest. Channelling his favourite freerunning comic book superhero, he used his momentum to carry him off the desk, rolling into a crouch spinning the pipe like a martial arts staff. “Ryan, what the fuck!” Doug yelled as he scrambled off the girl pulling his pants up.

His two friends quickly recovered from Ryan’s surprise attack. “Get him!” one of them yelled, Ryan couldn’t tell which, and the two older boys charged at him. He swung the pipe like a baseball bat, striking the arm of one of the boys when he tried to block it. The sound of bone cracking reverberated through the room and the attacker fell to the floor, cradling his now broken forearm and screaming in pain. The other boy charged into Ryan, knocking the pipe out of his hand and pushing him on to the floor. Sitting across Ryan’s waist and pinning the smaller boy to the floor, he punched Ryan several times in the face. Ryan grunted as the older boy hit him, the punches dazing him with their sledgehammer-like impacts. He started to panic; he was already starting to feel woozy from the first few blows, any more and he would be in serious danger of being knocked unconscious.

“Kill him Chris!” someone yelled. To his horror, he realised it was Doug.

“Little bastard broke my fucking arm,” the wounded teenager muttered.

Ryan saw the teenager sitting across his waist reach into his pocket and pull out a slotted screwdriver. As the teenager attempted to stab him, Ryan wrestled with him, desperately trying to disarm the screwdriver-wielding thug. For several tense seconds, the blade of the screwdriver hovered over his chest. Slowly, Ryan forced the screwdriver back, wrenching it out of the boy’s grip. Still holding the shaft, Ryan slammed the screwdriver handle first into the boy’s eye. The boy squealed in pain, tumbling off Ryan clutching his eye. Ryan wasted no time, springing to his feet and delivering a vicious kick to the boy’s side. He was relieved when the two injured boys scrambled to their feet and fled the room leaving Doug behind. His plan had not exactly been thorough, he didn’t know what he would have done if they hadn’t ran.

There was a scream from across the room. Doug had drawn a knife and was holding it to her throat, using her as a human shield.

“Jesus Christ Doug,” he yelled in frustration, “give it up already.”

“Shut the fuck up, get away from me!” Doug yelled backing in to a wall, still holding the girl.

Ryan placed the screwdriver on the desk and stepped away, his hands held out in what he hoped was a placating gesture. “Come on Doug, just let her go.” In the light from the discarded flashlights, Ryan could see Doug’s eyes, wide with panic, dart from side to side looking for an escape route. He deliberately took several steps away from the door, hoping that his former friend would take the opportunity to flee but he didn’t. “You don’t want to do this…”

“Shut up; don’t tell me what to do!”

“This isn’t you, you’re not like this,” Ryan pleaded although he knew at the back of his mind that he wasn’t getting through.

“And how would you know!”

“You’re right, people change. But you’re better than this; the Doug I knew would never be involved in something like this.”

“Fuck you Ryan! You disappeared for four years, don’t you dare think you got the right to judge me!”

“My parents were murdered, it’s not like I had a choice!” Ryan snapped. The two boys stared at each other across the room, each waiting for the other to make the next move. “Fine, if that’s what you want,” he said reaching down and picking up the mobile phone dropped by one of the thugs and forgotten, “we’ll just let the police sort this out.”

“You wouldn’t,” Doug said, his voice not as confident or arrogant as before.

“Abduction, attempted rape, possession of a weapon with intent to wound, you want me to add any more? Even at 13, they’ll bang you up for crap like that for sure.” Ryan pressed a few buttons on the phone and turned it around so Doug could see the screen. “Especially when they’ve got video evidence. Face it, you’re finished.”

The fight seemed to drain out of Doug as he watched the video footage. It was blurry but unmistakably him. “But,” he said pathetically, “we’re friends.”

“We were. I might not have many friends after moving around so much, but ones that yell ‘Kill him Chris’ are ones I can do without.” As Ryan’s words sank in, his grip on the girl faltered and the knife moved away from her neck. Taking advantage of Doug’s inattention, she grabbed his hand and bit down on it hard. He yelped and dropped the knife. Ryan surged forwards, slamming his fist into Doug’s face. Doug reeled backwards with the force of the punch, blood pouring from his nose. He stumbled against the wall next to a closet. “Open the door,” he yelled at the girl. She opened the door and Ryan shoved a stunned Doug into the closet slamming to the door shut and jamming it closed with a chair.

Ryan slid down the wall in to a sitting position as Doug banged on the door cursing at Ryan. He rubbed his aching jaw. His face was already starting to swell up. By tomorrow morning, he would probably have an impressive set of bruises.

He got up and crouched in front of the girl. She was bleeding slightly from the neck where Doug’s knife had nicked the skin. Apart from that and a few cuts and bruises, she appeared physically unharmed. Slowly, he put her coat around the shivering girl’s shoulders. He moved carefully, not wanting to frighten her; she’d already been through enough tonight. “It’s alright,” he said trying to reassure her, “they’ve gone and no one’s going to be able to hurt you. My name’s Ryan, what’s yours?”

“Megan,” she said in a very small voice.

“Okay Megan, I’m going to phone the cops so that they can arrest this bastard,” he said banging the closet door with his fist, “and an ambulance so they can make sure you’re alright.” She nodded weakly in response, still in shock. Ryan dialled 999 on the mobile and was quickly connected to the emergency operator. He gave the operator their location and told her what had happened before hanging up. Turning his back on the girl, he retrieved his things from where he had hidden them, quickly repacking the sleeping bag.

“Will you stay with me until they arrive?”

Ryan turned around and looking at her, found that he couldn’t say no even if it meant having to answer awkward questions. Making sure that the closet door was securely jammed; he picked up his backpack and led the girl outside to the car park. It didn’t take long for the sound of police sirens to be heard. They screeched to halt in front of the hole in the fence, an ambulance following close behind. A policewoman approached the two teenagers; she guided Megan towards the waiting ambulance while her colleague came over to Ryan. Two other officers went in to the warehouse He looked up at the policeman. When he asked Ryan to come over to the police car so that he could take a statement, Ryan knew that he was in trouble.

The policeman took one look at the nervous boy in the passenger seat next to him, glanced at the bag Ryan was holding in his lap and asked the question Ryan had been dreading. “Is your name Ryan Henderson?” Ryan nodded. “You do know that there’s quite a few people worried about you back in Cliffport?” Ryan looked at the floor, unwilling to look at the policeman or answer him. A shout from outside attracted his attention and he watched as two officers dragged a handcuffed Doug out of the warehouse and into a waiting police car. “So, do you want to tell me what happened tonight?”

After handing over the mobile phone to the officer and describing what he had seen, Ryan had been taken to the police station. He sat opposite the officer as he phoned Ryan’s foster parents. Half asleep, Ryan only paid the vaguest attention to the conversation whilst stifling his yawns. When the officer put phone down, he looked at the bleary-eyed boy.

“Was he … was he angry?” Ryan asked tentatively.

“Of course, but he was also worried.” Ryan could not hold it in any longer. He let out a long, exhausted yawn followed by a muffled apology. “Someone will take you home in the morning. Until then,” the officer continued, “you can wait in the first aid room and get some rest.”

Within minutes of him lying down on the hard bed, he was fast asleep.

—-

Later next morning…

A sullen Ryan got out of the police car. Shouldering his backpack, he followed the police officer towards the house. Anthony answered the door and he looked at Ryan. “Get inside,” Anthony said tersely. Ryan did as he was told, not meeting his eyes. “Wait for me in the kitchen.”

Ryan sat down at the kitchen table, his heart racing and a hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach. He couldn’t hear what was being said between Anthony and the police officer. After a few minutes, the police officer left and Anthony came into the kitchen.

“Sorry,” Ryan said, “for making you worry.” Anthony remained silent. “Guess I screwed everything up. You’ll be phoning social services tomorrow to get them to take me back.”

“That depends,” Anthony said after a moment’s further silence.

“On what?” Ryan asked looking at him for the first time.

“On what the hell you were thinking,” he said looking at the fresh bruises on Ryan’s face. “You were lucky you didn’t get yourself seriously hurt, or worse.”

Ryan looked down at the table, gazing at his own reflection in the shiny surface. His eyes drifted to the scar on his neck. “How much did they tell you about what happened to my parents?”

Anthony glanced at the top of the boy’s head. Ryan had never spoken a word about his family before. “Just the basics, that there was a home invasion, a fire and that you were the only one that survived. They never caught the people responsible.”

“That’s mostly true,” Ryan said quietly, barely above a whisper.

“What do you mean?” Anthony asked, sitting down opposite Ryan. He had the feeling that this was going to be one of those conversations.

Still looking down at the table, his finger traced along the line of scar tissue. “He didn’t die in the fire.”

“Who didn’t?”

“Mark.”

Anthony thought for a moment, thinking back to what the social worker had told them before they had agreed to take Ryan on as a foster child. “Wasn’t Mark your brother?”

Ryan shot out of the chair, glaring across the table at his foster father. “He’s not my fucking brother, not after what he did,” Ryan yelled. Anthony jumped back slightly, shocked at the sudden outburst. “He killed mum, he killed dad, he cut my throat and he … he…” his voice faltered and he stormed out of the room, thundering up the stairs and slamming his bedroom door. Anthony sat there stunned, he’d known that talking about his past had always been a touchy subject for Ryan, but there had never been anything in the information given to them by social services that his brother had been responsible for the deaths of his parents.

After a moment, he got up from the table and slowly walked up the stairs. Carefully he opened the door to the boys’ bedroom. Ryan was sitting on the floor with his back to the wall hugging his knees and hiding his face. Anthony sat down next to Ryan. “Do you want to talk?” Ryan shook his head.

“I can’t,” said a muffled voice.

“You have too,” Anthony said softly, “it’s obviously eating you up inside.”

“No,” he said.

“Look, I promise whatever you say stays between us. If it’s affecting you this much, then you HAVE to tell someone.”

“You won’t believe me; no one did about what he did to mum and dad.”

Anthony laid a hand on Ryan’s shoulder and simply said, “Trust me.” Ryan looked up at him, his eyes red and puffy. Anthony realised that Ryan had been crying.

“I couldn’t stop him; I wasn’t strong enough or brave enough. I could’ve fought back but I ran to my room. He chased and caught me. As he tied me up, I can remember wishing that Mark would come and save me.” Tears were beginning to spill down Ryan’s face. “I didn’t know that my brother was the one… the one who was… he raped me.” Ryan once again buried his head against his knees.

“It’s wasn’t your fault,” Anthony began pulling Ryan into a hug, “you were only ten years old, there was nothing you could have done.” Ryan broke down, sobbing uncontrollably against Anthony’s chest. “Everything’s going to be alright.”

Ryan’s Story – The Jewel

Ryan and TreyThe morning after the accident, before he had been released from hospital, Ryan had an unexpected visitor, Jake Matthews. To say that Ryan was suspicious about Jake’s visit would be an understatement.

“Err … hi,” said Jake nervously standing at the foot of the bed clutching his bag.

Ryan looked at Jake through narrowed eyes. “What do you want, Jake?” He head was still a little sore and he wasn’t really in the mood to deal with whatever the older boy wanted. He expected Jake was here to try to intimidate him into keeping quiet over what had happened just prior to the accident.

“I thought you might want this back,” Jake replied reaching into his bag. He pulled out Ryan’s skateboard and handed it to him. “You left it at the top of the cliffs.” Ryan took the skateboard and grunted a thank you. An awkward silence hung between the two boys, neither knowing what to say.

“So,” Ryan said breaking the silence, “how’d you get in anyway? Visitor hours don’t start until two and you don’t exactly count as a friend or family member.”

“My dad’s a sarge in the police back at Cliffport; he pulled a couple of strings when I asked him for a favour.” Jake sat down in the chair by his bed, idly glancing at the comics.

“Uh-huh, you came all this way just to return my skateboard.”

“Actually,” Jake said uncertainly, “I was hoping I could do something about what just said.”

“About what,” Ryan said, slightly confused and impatient.

“About not being a friend. Look, you saved my life. If it weren’t for you that car would have hit me.”

“You’re serious,” Ryan said, realising that Jake wasn’t joking. “The way I heard it; you were the one that saved mine. Sounds like we’re even to me.”

“Yeah, but you were right what you said. We’ve been real jerks to you since you got here, especially me. Honestly, I’d have understood it if you’d just jumped out of the way and let the car hit me. But you didn’t. Despite all the crap that we’ve done to you, you still risked your life to save mine. I don’t know about you, but I don’t forget stuff like that.”

“Look, I don’t need anyone watching my back. I can take care of myself.”

“Yeah, I can see that. My jaw still hurts from that punch you gave me,” Jake said, grimacing in mock pain as he rubbed the side of his face.

Ryan was dubious, he had gotten used to expecting an ulterior motive when someone tried to “help him” or be his “friend.” Yet after four years of shutting everyone out, he was getting tired of always being isolated and alone. The Johnson’s were nice, they genuinely seemed to care; Trey was annoying, but he couldn’t deny that sometimes it was fun to be around him. Maybe it was time to start trusting people again.

“All right,” Ryan said taking a deep breath, “but no promises ok?”

“That’s cool.” Jake reached back into his bag once again and this time pulled out something wrapped in a supermarket carrier bag. He handed it to Ryan who looked inside, revealing a pair swimming shorts.

“What’s this?” he asked confused. “I’m not a house-elf you know.”

Jake laughed, betraying a passing familiarity with the Harry Potter books. “That’s for when you get out. As soon as you’re up for it, I’m dragging your ass to the sports centre and teaching you how to swim. The next time you fall into the harbour, I ain’t jumping in to save you.”

By the time Susan and Anthony had arrived an hour later to take him home, the two boys were still laughing and talking. Over the next month, Jake kept his word and tried to teach Ryan how to swim with mixed results.

—-

In between schoolwork and learning how to swim, Ryan had set himself another task. The memories of what he had experienced after he had passed out underwater were fuzzy, almost dreamlike in quality. Yet he was sure that what he had experienced was no hallucination, that it was real. The heat from the flames had felt real, a bruise from the strong grip had been left on his arm and no one had told him that Jake had been the person who had pulled him out of the water. He had seen that for himself during the out of body experience.

The demon, if the other man had been addressing him literally, had referred to his brother and a ritual. Despite the best efforts of psychologists and counsellors, Ryan had never completely come to terms with what Mark had done. What had happened on that night four years ago still gave him frequent nightmares and he had never told anyone the full story of what his brother had done to him. One of the things he had never told anyone was that his brother had also mentioned a ritual right before he killed his unsuspecting accomplice. Ryan had never thought too hard on what his brother had meant, although Mark’s last words to him were indelibly burned into his memories. His instincts told him that he needed to find out what Mark had been trying to do. Something told him that his life might quite literally depend on it.

Deciding to research the ritual was the easy part. Finding a place to start wasn’t. Using the internet was out of the question, the Johnson’s PC had parental controls blocking any website that could be useful. He didn’t know enough about computers to disable the controls and he didn’t want to ask his foster parents to remove them, as that would have raised too many awkward questions. Cliffport’s public library wasn’t much help either. Apart from a few books on theology and ancient mythology, the library had nothing that came even close to books on the occult.

After finding that no useful information could be found in Cliffport, Ryan decided that perhaps Plymouth would be better place to look. So a week after the accident, he took the 40-minute bus ride across the county line into Devon. Armed with a map and a printout from yell.com, he eventually found himself in Plymouth’s Barbican district standing at the door to a dark basement bookstore.

As he opened the door, ringing the bell, he had to squint in order to see in the dim lighting. The air smelled stuffy, reeking of old books and other strange odours. Bookshelves crammed with books lined the walls of the small room interspaced with glass cabinets housing numerous strange looking items. Ryan peered through the dusty glass of one cabinet at what appeared to be a human skull decorated with a strange red metal inset into its surface. The books on the shelves next to it were old and leather-bound. He reached out to take one from the shelf when the sound of a throat being cleared made him jump and spin around.

An old man standing at the door to a back room peered at him over the rim of his spectacles. “Please do not touch the books,” he said as he appraised the youth before him, “and I don’t like school children poking through my shop. So unless you are looking from something in particular, please leave.”

“I’m err,” Ryan said nervously. The man’s stare was piercing and it made him very uncomfortable. “I’m um looking for…”

“Spit it out boy, I haven’t got all day.”

Ryan swallowed, “it’s now or never,” he thought to himself. “I’m l looking for books on soul pledging.” He said quickly, almost stumbling over the words. The man took a couple steps towards him, fixing him with a suspicious look and standing uncomfortably close to Ryan. Ryan stepped back at the sudden movement, backing into the bookcase behind. Adjusting his glasses, the old man leaned forward looking down at Ryan.

“That’s a very dangerous subject,” he said quietly, “and not something you should be playing around with at your age.” The old man adjusted his glasses and peered at Ryan’s neck, seeing the scar there for the first time. He stepped back, examining the line of scar tissue. He could tell just by looking at it that it was a knife wound and judging by its location, it was a miracle it hadn’t been fatal. “That’s a nasty looking scar you have there son. Where did you get it?”

“I got attacked by a dog when I was little,” lied Ryan automatically, “look mister, do you have any books or not?”

The old man folded his arms and looked at the boy. Ryan muttered under his breath and turned to leave. “Wait,” the old man said as Ryan reached the door, “I might have something for you.” The old man went into in to the backroom, leaving Ryan alone in the front. As the sounds of rummaging filtered in from the back, Ryan wandered over to the bookcase again, reading the book titles; Myths and Monsters of Devon and Cornwall, The Four Ancient Gods, Infiernoboca de la Mundo. “Found it,” the old man said as he walked back into the front holding a leather-bound book. He walked over to Ryan, handing it to him.

“A Primer in Animus Spondeo, Everto quod suum Ritus,” Ryan said reading the title aloud, “A Primer on Soul Pledging, Demons and their Rituals.”

“You read Latin,” the man said with a raised eyebrow.

“Yeah, a little,” Ryan said carefully flicking through the pages, “my last foster parents were ultra-strict religious types and they made learn us Latin and stuff. You know, trying to save our heathen souls or something.” The old man nodded. “So, how much?”

The old man scratched his head. “For you, thirty pounds.” Ryan grimaced as he fished out a handful of notes from his pocket; this was all he had. Reluctantly he handed over the money as the old man wrapped the book in brown paper and twine. “Pleasure doing business with you son,” the old man said coldly. Ryan took the package from him and placed it gently at the bottom of his backpack. As he left the store, Ryan could feel the eyes of the old man on his back, following him all the way to the door. He felt relieved when he was finally outside in the bright sunlight.

As soon as the boy was out of sight, the old man was joined by a young man from the backroom. Daniel reached into a pocket and pulled out his wallet. He handed the old man a roll of notes. “£1’000 as agreed. That should cover the rest of the book’s cost.”

The old man counted the money. “Humph,” he grunted, “I should hope so. That boy got a bargain; I could have sold that book for over £800 at auction.” Daniel picked up an old kitbag from under the counter, shook the old man’s hand, and made for the door. “Mr Reese?” the old man asked, “one question if you will. Why was it so important for the boy to receive that book? Soul Pledging is not a game for children.”

“You saw the scar on his neck, he’s already been pledged. He just doesn’t know what that means yet.”

—-

A month passed, and Ryan had found reading the book hard going. The Latin prose was dense and poorly organised. In some places, the age of the book worked against him as the ink had faded rendering the text unreadable. Still, it was all he had to work with.

On the morning of the 19th, Ryan groaned and rolled out of bed, contemplating an act of brutal violence against the alarm clock. It was a Monday. Ryan was not a morning person, especially on Monday mornings. He glanced across the bedroom at Trey’s sleeping form. The younger boy was snoring blissfully, lost to dreamland. “Get up squirt,” he grunted throwing a pillow at Trey and waking him, “time for school.” As Trey rolled out of bed, landing roughly on the bedroom floor, Ryan staggered across the landing into the bathroom and “deposited his morning business.” After several minutes, he left the bathroom and went back into the bedroom. Trey was still sitting on the floor, wrapped bleary-eyed in his bedcovers. “Breakfast in five,” he said over his shoulder as he rummaged through the chest of drawers looking for something to wear, “leaving for the boat in fifteen with or without you.” He pulled on relatively clean t-shirt and hopped into his pants before heading downstairs.

His foster parents were already up and dressed. Anthony looked up from his cereal has Ryan popped a pair of pop tarts into the toaster, strawberry for him and chocolate for Trey. “Morning, ready for school?”

“Yeah,” he answered opening the fridge and reaching for the orange juice.

“Have done your homework?”

“Yes sir,” Ryan said playfully.

“Is Trey up yet?” Susan asked him.

Ryan glanced at the stairs. “He better be,” he growled in mock-menace, “I’m not being late again because of him.” The toaster dinged as the pop-tarts sprang up. Ryan carefully plucked the hot breakfast treats out of the toaster and put them on separate plates. As if on cue, a grumpy twelve-year-old clomped down the stairs and into the kitchen. Trey sat down at the table and greedily began to munch on his pop tart. He grunted unintelligibly to a question about homework. Anthony looked over to Ryan who nodded slightly confirming that he had made sure that the younger boy had completed his homework the night before. Trey hated school and, like most children, hated homework.

True to his word, ten minutes later Ryan was half-dragging a half-awake Trey out of the front door. Walking down the cliff top road down towards the harbour, Ryan looked out across the bay towards St Piran’s Island. Just a mile offshore, it was the unusual home to Cliffport’s school. Named after Cornwall’s patron saint, the island used to be home to a family of wealthy landowners. However, in the late 1930s, the family had donated the island to the local community with the stipulation that the grounds and buildings be used to house a school for the village’s children. Cliffport Community School was opened the following year. Despite the growth of the town, the school was still small, having only 400 students. Although during low tide it was possible to reach the island by walking across the sand, access to the island was generally provided by two boats owned by the school. “Racing the tide” were also grounds for detention if caught which didn’t stop children from trying it.

The two boys reached the harbour with ample time to spare, boarding the boat with the rest of the upper school students. The boat’s worked in shifts, first transporting the upper school students to the island before returning for the junior school students and any upper school stragglers. Three members of staff once again performed the daily struggle of reminding all the children to put on their life vests. Trey immediately ran off to join his friends at the bow while Ryan looked for somewhere to sit down. With his father in prison on drugs charges and his mother declared an unfit parent by the courts, Trey had been in care for just under a year. Being a local boy, he had been very lucky that social services had found a foster placement within the community allowing him to keep in contact with his friends.

Just before the boat loosed its moorings, a late arrival ran up the walkway and jumped onboard, stumbling his way through the crowd to sit next to Ryan. “Morning Jake, you look terrible,” Ryan said looking up at the older boy. He had dark circles around his eyes and he looked like he hadn’t had much sleep. Jake grunted, shielding his eyes under his hood.

“God must be a teetotaller,” he mumbled, “’cos if he were an alky, he’d have never made the sun so bright in the mornings.”

“Your dad’s a cop; if he catches you drinking you know he’ll kick your ass.” Jake gave him a sidelong glance but as the boat started to pull away from the dock, its diesel engine roaring, something on the dock attracted his attention.

“Whoa, did you see that?” He said pointing towards the dock. Ryan turned and looked at where he was pointing.

“See what?”

“That dog.” Standing at the end of the dock was a large black dog, watching the boat depart.

“What about it?”

Jake was sure that, just for a second, its eyes had shone red. “Must’ve been seeing things,” he thought to himself. “Nothing … he’s just huge.” Jake said turning his back on the dog.

“Uh huh,” Ryan said sceptically, rolling his eyes. Unseen by the two boys, the wolf-like hound walked behind a sign out of sight from any onlookers and vanished.

It took the boat about twenty minutes to cross the small channel and slowly the students disembarked, filtering towards their various classrooms.

Morning lessons always dragged on a Monday. First period was English literature, and the class took turns reading out passages from Macbeth. It was a snore-inducing lesson, especially first thing on a Monday morning and Ryan wasn’t exactly sure what they were supposed to be learning while reciting Shakespeare. When the teacher called on him to recite a section, he did as he was told even though he had hidden a comic inside the book. Sat on his own at the back of the class, he was able to recite the required passage from memory, visualising the pages in his mind. In the corridors between classes, Ryan noticed a girl looking at him strangely. For a brief second, their eyes met across the crowded corridor. It was this point that Ryan recognised her, with her eyes different colours, Celeste was the only other person at school considered weirder than Ryan. French was marginally more interesting, if only because he actually had to think a couple of times. He was glad when lunch finally rolled around.

Idly pushing peas around on his plate with a fork while reading his comic, Ryan was soon joined by two others, Jake and Jake’s classmate Spud. In between mouthfuls of chips, the two older boys were desperately trying to finish their science homework before it was due in after lunch. Ryan was only half-listening as they argued over the answers to some of the questions.

“Gravitation, electromagnetism, weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force,” Ryan said quietly as Defender threw the Gargoyle across the room, taking out Rampage just as he was about to body tackle The Eye.

“What was that?” Jake said looking up from his workbook.

“Question 12, what are the four fundamental forces in Physics? Gravitation, electromagnetism, weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force,” he repeated slightly louder.

Spud looked at Ryan, a sneer on his face. “Like you’d know something like that, dumbass.”

“Hey,” Jake said punching Spud on the arm, “there’s no need for that.”

“Oh come on, he’s a ‘tard. My sister’s in the same class as him and she says he never gets a question right and he’s at the bottom of the class.”

“That may be true,” Jake said turning the text book towards Spud, “but he’s right.” Behind the comic book, Ryan smiled covertly.

“Humph, lucky guess. Question 5, what element has the atomic number of 45?”

“Rhodium.”

Scowling, Spud flipped through the textbook looking for another question. “Ok, what element is directly to the right of Argon on the Table of Elements?”

Ryan put the comic down and looked Spud casually in the eyes. “Trick question, Argon is in the rightmost group. But to the left of it is Chlorine with an atomic number of 17. Used as a bleaching and disinfectant agent it’s also part of the compound Sodium Chloride, better known as table salt.”

“Alright alright,” Spud interrupted holding his hands up in defeat, “so you’re not a complete ‘tard after all.”

“You’re welcome,” Ryan said rolling his eyes. Ignoring him, Spud gathered up his books and jogged over to join his girlfriend Samantha at another table. Shaking his head, Ryan went back to reading his comic. After a few moments, he noticed that Jake was looking at him with a quizzical expression. “What?”

“What the hell was all that about?” Jake asked closing the textbook. “No offense, but Spud’s right. Everyone knows you’re supposed to be stupid.”

Ryan’s eyes flashed with anger as he glared at Jake over the top of the comic. “Gee thanks, none taken.”

“Whoa, it don’t matter nothing to me. Einstein or Forest Gump, we’d still be cool. But if you’re a freaking genius, then why are you at the bottom of the class?”

“I’m not at the bottom,” Ryan mumbled bitterly, his mouth full of chips; “if you’re at the bottom you get special help.” Ryan emphasised the word special with air quotes. “If you get every question right you’re the teacher’s pet. Average and they push you to try harder. But if you’re just stupid, then no one pays you any attention.”

Jake leaned forward and closed Ryan’s comic, forcing the younger boy to look at him. “You always sit by yourself, or at the back. Anyone tries to get close, you brush em off, and you’re failing every class on purpose so that none of the teachers bother trying to teach you anything. Mate, what’s up with you? It’s like your hiding from the world.”

Ryan looked at Jake, his mouth wobbling as if he was trying to find the words to respond. Then, abruptly, he scooped up his bag and the comic and got up from the table and left. Jake stood up, ready to go after him but his uncompleted homework beckoned. With a resigned sigh, he sat back down and started writing. As he did so, he realised that he didn’t really know anything about Ryan, no one did. Ryan never talked about himself and always seemed to deflect any questions. Jake had of course asked the obvious question, about the origins of Ryan’s scar. He’d gotten an answer, an animal attack when he was younger, but Jake had a feeling that there was more to it than that.

The conversation left Ryan in a bad mood for the rest of the day. He narrowly avoided detention when he argued with the RE teacher during a lesson on Intelligent Design Theory. Despite the fact that he was now convinced the supernatural existed, he still found it hard to accept certain things on faith alone. Luckily, the teacher had a sense of humour and had been surprised at the reasoned and well thought out arguments. He was glad though when 3:45 rolled around and it was time to go home.

—-

Later that evening, Ryan was busy doing his homework in his room when Anthony called up the stairs that dinner was ready. Making sure his history essay was saved on the computer, headed downstairs to the dining room. Sitting down at the table, savouring the smell of Susan’s beef stew, he picked up the cutlery and froze. Opposite Ryan sat Trey. He sat there; acting like nothing was wrong eating his dinner with his eyes missing. There was only a pair of empty sockets where his eyes should be. Glancing at Susan and Anthony, they were acting normally, as if they hadn’t noticed that an eyeless child was sitting at their table eating dinner.

“What’s wrong?” Asked Trey, “looking” across the table at Ryan.

“Nuh … Nothing,” he stammered. “Could you pass the salt?” Trey passed him the saltshaker and Ryan tried his best to act natural as he ate his dinner. He avoided looking directly at Trey as they ate and wild thoughts began to race through his mind. “The shrinks were right,” he thought to himself silently, “I’ve gone crazy.”

Hurriedly finishing his dinner, Ryan excused himself from the table and retreated to his bedroom as fast as he could without making a scene. He yanked open the desk drawer and grabbed the small toolkit he used to fiddle with his skateboard. Using the screwdriver, he popped the access panel off the side of the PC and reached inside. Sitting on top of the hard drive inside an anti-static bag was the leather bound occult book. He’d had the idea to hide book there after seeing someone hide a gun in a similar place on an episode of CSI. Flicking through book, jumping from chapter to chapter, Ryan desperately scanned the Latin text for any mention of missing eyes but there was nothing even remotely close. When the door opened behind him, he quickly covered the book with a skating magazine as Trey entered.

“Hello Ryan, it’s been a long time.” Ryan froze at the sound of the voice coming out of Trey’s mouth. A voice that he had not heard in person for nearly four years but one that he heard every night in his nightmares. The voice of his brother Mark.

His heart began racing as fear and confusion gripped him. After four years of hiding, his brother had finally found him. As Trey sneered at him, Ryan realised that more than just him was in trouble. “What have you done to Trey?” He asked through gritted teeth.

“Who?” Trey asked flopping down onto his bed, “Oh, the brat. Don’t worry, he’s not been harmed. Just a simple body swap; he won’t even remember it.”

“Why, what do you want?”

“Actually, I need your help,” Trey said picking at his teeth with his fingernail.

“Christ, you want my help after what you did to me?” Ryan said angrily getting to his feet, “I’d … you … Go to hell! I aint helping you.”

Trey smiled at Ryan’s outburst, getting up off the bed and taking a step toward him. From a pocket, the younger boy pulled out a black handled flick knife. A button on its side caused its five-inch blade to spring out. Ryan stiffened at the sight of the knife blade. “Has he been depressed lately?”

“Huh?” Ryan was confused at the sudden change of subject.

“Is he being bullied at school, missing mummy and daddy, being mistreated by his foster parents?” Trey asked grinning.

“What? No. What the hell are you talking about?”

“Well,” Trey said slowly, bringing the knife to his wrist, “they’ll be asking questions about what drove a twelve-year-old boy to commit suicide.” The blade hovered just above the boy’s bare wrist. Ryan knew that he’d never be able to stop Mark from cutting Trey’s wrist. He might be able to wrestle the knife away from him and he would probably be able to stem the bleeding but he couldn’t watch Trey all the time. Ryan fell back down onto the chair, his head in his hands.

“Fine,” Ryan said dejectedly, “you win.”

Trey put the knife away and lay back down on the bed smiling. “Excellent, you know that old burial mound outside town? I need you to go there at sunset tomorrow and retrieve a very special jewel from inside.”

“Do I look like Indiana Jones?” He said giving Trey a sarcastic glance.

“No,” Trey answered looking at him sternly, “you look like my bitch. Now get some sleep, you’re gonna need it.”

Ryan did not sleep well that night, he felt exposed, trapped. Mark was essentially just across the room from him. If he wanted to, he could’ve done whatever he wanted while Ryan slept. He was also worried about Trey. Mark had already made it clear that was capable of killing Trey if Ryan didn’t do was he wanted. Whether Mark could be trusted to leave Trey alone once Ryan had obtained the Jewel was another question. With all these thoughts racing through his head, it was a wonder he got any sleep at all.

The next day passed quickly, the morning classes blurring together. Ryan was too preoccupied to concentrate on class work. Something that only furthered the perception that he was a poor student. He spent lunch in the school’s small library looking for information on the burial mound but couldn’t find any books on local history. At the end of the school day, Ryan snuck off to Cliffport’s public library. That morning, Ryan had told his foster parents that he had a history report to write and that he would be going to the library straight from school.

Waiting for sunset, he searched through books for any information on the burial mound. Despite local lore, no one knew who or what was buried inside. Theories ranged the serious to the downright bizarre but none of them seemed to have any shred of proof behind them. No archaeological study had ever been performed and it was entirely possible that the mound was a natural geological feature. Yet, Mark was effectively holding Trey hostage over some jewel he believed was inside the mound. Ryan was of no doubt that if his brother was prepared to go to those lengths, then there indeed was something inside the mound after all.

As the sun began to dip towards the horizon and the shadows started to lengthen, Ryan packed away his things, put the books back on the shelves, and left the library. The sun was beginning to set, the wispy cirrocumulus clouds reflecting the orange sunlight and taking on the appearance of streamers of fire, lancing across the sky. Lounging opposite the steps up to the library was a large black dog, curled up beneath a bench. As Ryan jogged down the steps to the street, it lifted its head to watch him. Passing the bench, Ryan glanced at the wolf-like hound. The dog’s eyes flashed red for just a second presumably, Ryan thought, reflecting the evening sunlight. Quickly putting the moment out of his mind, Ryan hopped on his skateboard and began to skate across town.

The burial mound was in the hills that rose behind East Cliffport. Surrounded by farmland, and providing a spectacular view of the town below, only a small dirt track lead up from the town. Huffing up the track, his skateboard strapped to his backpack, Ryan was more than a little surprised to see Celeste sitting on a rock in front of the mound, sketching the sunset. “This is just too coincidental to be a coincidence,” he muttered. Circling around the mound, he kept a wary eye on the girl as he looked for a way inside. Too many strange things had happened over the last couple of days.

“Can I help you?” Celeste asked putting her sketchbook away as Ryan circled back around to the front.

Ryan shrugged. “Worth a shot,” he thought to himself. “You wouldn’t happen to know if there is a way in to the mound would you.” Celeste got up and walked over to where Ryan was standing.

“Of course I do silly,” she said flashing him with a smile, “under the bushes.” Ryan looked over to the row of bushes she pointed to and turned back to say something when he noticed she had already left, skipping down the dirt track.

“Wiee-erd,” he said, “and what sort of person skips nowadays?” Ryan went over to the bushes and began to search for a hole or passageway, anything that could be an entrance into the mound. All he found was a rusted horseshoe lying beneath one of the bushes. When he reached down to touch it, he suddenly fell through the ground as if passing incorporeally through the dirt, landing roughly.

Rubbing his sore bottom, he found himself sitting on the floor of a tunnel. The floor was made of smooth stone and the walls and ceiling were constructed of compacted earth. Small crystals embedded near the top of the walls cast a gentle blue glow, illuminating the tunnel. Behind him was a bare wall and ahead of him the tunnel sloped gently downwards. Ryan looked up at the ceiling, as he feared there was no sign of a way out. “Well if no one was buried in here before,” he said to no one in particular, “there is now.”

Apprehensively, he began to make his way down the tunnel. After several long minutes, the tunnel eventually opened up into a small chamber. Opposite the tunnel was a small archway, through which Ryan could see another dimly lit tunnel with a chamber at its end. A tantalising glint from inside the distant chamber drew Ryan forward. As he approached the archway, a large stone block slammed down sealing the archway. When he took a step back, the block grated open slowly. A step forward and it slammed shut again. Examining the floor, Ryan looked for the pressure switch he assumed was triggering the stone block. The floor was smooth an unbroken, almost like a solid carved piece of stone. Whatever was triggering it couldn’t be on the floor. Thinking carefully, he took a step towards the archway again, timing the block’s descent. It took a just a few seconds for the block to crash down. Even at a full run, he’d never be able to safely cross the distance between the “trigger point” and the archway. Unless…

Ryan jogged back up the tunnel and unclipped the skateboard from his backpack. Taking a deep breath, he hopped on and began to accelerate down the tunnel. “It’s just physics and maths; vectors, velocities, friction and acceleration; I can do this,” he said to himself as he rushed towards the chamber. Screaming in terror, he crouched down on the board as he shot through the opening, the stone block skimming the back of his head as it slammed shut. The front wheel of the skateboard struck a rut in the stone floor and Ryan was sent tumbling to floor. He lay there, scuffed and bruised by the fall and whopping in triumph, the danger and the reason he was here momentarily forgotten. Behind him, the stone block slowly grated upwards again and locked back into place.

He picked himself up off the floor walked slowly towards the distant chamber, wary in case of other traps. At the back of the chamber was an altar-like pedestal on top of which was a gleaming red gemstone. “This is too easy,” he said stepping into the chamber. A series of holes ran in front of the alter. As he cautiously approached, he was proven right as jets of flame erupted from the holes. The blast of heat and fire caused him to jump back yelping in fear, stumbling backwards to the floor. He scrambled backwards away from the jets and as he did so, the jets ceased. Ryan’s heart was racing, his breaths coming fast. He closed his eyes, taking several deep breaths in an attempt to calm down. “Come on Ryan,” he said to himself, “suck it up. Trey’s counting on you.”

Swallowing his pyrophobia, he picked up his skateboard and threw it at the jewel. The board pin wheeled through the air, trigging the flame jets, striking the jewel and knocking it behind the altar where it clattered across the floor to a safe distance. When the flame jets subsided, Ryan edged around the altar to the rear of the chamber, hugging the walls. The skateboard was warm but undamaged by its passage through the flame jets. He picked up the jewel and examined it. It was tingly to the touch and its blood red surface seemed slimy and slick even though it was bone dry. Sparkles of light danced just beneath the surface.

As Ryan stood up, a dull rumbling began to reverberate around the chamber. “What now?” Water started gushing up out of the holes in the floor rapidly pooling and beginning to flood the chamber. From up the tunnel, Ryan could hear the stone block beginning to close. He started running up the tunnel, the water already lapping at his ankles and gushing faster and faster out of the floor with each passing second. By the time he reached the archway the stone block was already halfway down. Diving under the block, he just made it under before it slammed shut. Sealing the archway didn’t stop the flow of water. It forced its way through channels and cracks and cascaded into the first chamber. His legs pumping furiously, Ryan desperately ran up the tunnel only to end up at the dead end where he had landed earlier. There was no way out, he was trapped. The water was rising up the tunnel fast; already the lower chambers were flooded to their roofs. In just a few short minutes, the water would reach him. Ryan didn’t know what made him do it, but he took the jewel out of his pocket and pushed it into the ceiling. The dirt melted away forming a shaft that lead to the surface. Rocks and stones pushed their way through the shaft walls creating handholds. Wasting no time he climbed up the shaft, not daring to look down as the water started to fill the shaft. Eventually he reached the surface, the shaft collapsing behind him.

Ryan lay there panting, covered in dirt from the shaft. A cool evening breeze blew gently across the mound and in contrast to the chaos below, the scene above the mound was serene and calm. The jewel was still in his hand and he held it up the sky, holding it in front of the full moon and letting the moonlight filter through it. Off to the side, he heard a growl. Ryan sat up and saw the black dog crouched a short distance away in an attack position, its teeth bare and ready to pounce. “Er, good doggie?” The hound’s eyes glowed red and it leapt at Ryan. He screamed did not feel the dog’s teeth on his neck like he expected. Instead, it grabbed the jewel out of his hand with its teeth and bounded off into the darkness, fading from view.

At that point, he realised that the hound must have been sent by Mark to retrieve the jewel. Ryan knew that he’d had no choice to retrieve the jewel if he wanted Trey back, but still, he wondered if giving the jewel to Mark had been a wise decision. Ryan bolted upright. “Trey,” he thought to himself, “please let him be ok.” He got up off the ground and raced down the track, jumping onto his board the moment he got to the road. If it were possible to break the speed limit on a skateboard, then Ryan would have done it. As it was, he probably broke a number of laws as he recklessly skated across town.

As he pulled into Candlewick Close, he skidded to a stop. In the driveway, under the light of a security flood, Trey was playing basketball with his friends. Laughing and joking, complete with eyes, he was acting as if nothing had happened. Mark had kept his word. Trey saw Ryan approached and tossed him the basketball. Ryan took the ball, bounced it a couple of time, and without another word joined the game.

Blogged with Flock

Technorati tags: , , , , , , ,

Ryan’s Story – The Accident

It had been nearly four years since his parents had been killed, murdered by his then 17-year-old brother Mark. Ryan had been left for dead, his throat cut and soaked in petrol as his older brother torched the family home. Luckily, he had escaped the fire, releasing himself from his bonds and climbing out of a bedroom window. A neighbour had found the ten-year-old, lying burned and near death from blood loss in the front garden. He had been rushed to hospital where he eventually recovered. The burns had healed but the cut to his throat had left a vicious looking scar. The mental damage however would take much longer to heal. When he tried to tell the police and the doctors that the third body they had found was not his brother, but that it was the body of his brother’s accomplice murdered to make it look like Mark had died, no one believed him. Eventually he stopped trying and pretended to accept the “official” version of events. Deep down however, he never stopped believing what had been burned into his memories on that night. Having no living relatives, Ryan had spent the next four years bouncing between foster families and children’s homes. All the time knowing his brother was out there.

Ryan was of average height for his age, his scruffy brown hair and green eyes often poking out from under his favourite red baseball cap. Both his ears were pierced. He kept a low profile, trying his best not to stand out from the crowd. The scar on his neck made this difficult; it was often the first thing people noticed about him. Consequently, he often tried to hide it by wearing a scarf, bandana or wearing the hood up on his hooded sweatshirts.

Today was his fourteenth birthday but since no else seemed to know or care, Ryan did not feel like celebrating. With his headphones on and his head down, Ryan was trying his best to ignore the group following him as he trudged up the steep cliff path. The loud music drowned out their jibes but he still knew they were there. At least they weren’t throwing things at him this time. He had been living with the Johnson’s for just over a month now. A new set of foster parents meant a new town and a new school. Yet again, he was the freaky new kid that sat at the back of the class that some of his so-called classmates had decided was an easy target. There had been a couple of scuffles but nothing major and it was nothing he hadn’t had to deal with before.

The path that Ryan was taking was a shortcut from the lower town where the local school was located up to West Cliffport where his foster parents lived. It led from the harbour up the side of the cliffs to the road that ran along their top. Cliffport had once been a bustling fishing village. However, as the twentieth century rolled around, fishing gave way to tourism and over successive decades, the village had expanded outside the steep-sided valley. Now new residential developments had begun to sprawl up the sides of the hills surrounding the town and its enclosed bay.

He had just reached the top of the path and was about to jump skateboard when the gang made their move, knocking into him from behind. Jake, an older boy a year above him, snatched the skateboard from out of Ryan’s grip while his two partners in crime grabbed his arms. “Hey, give that back!” Ryan demanded shaking himself loose of the grip of the two other boys.

“Not unless you beg for it freak!” Jake taunted.

“I don’t beg for nothing,” said Ryan as he glared angrily at Jake, “especially from dickless morons like you.” On any other day, Ryan would never be so confrontational but at that moment, something inside him had snapped. Today was different; he had been experiencing this kind of aggravation for the last four years and normally he would have endured it, unwilling to get into trouble or make a scene. As Jake held his skateboard out, daring him to take it, Ryan realised that he just could not stand by and let people treat him like crap any longer. Balling his fists, his face became red with adrenaline-laced anger and he took a step towards Jake.

“You want this back, you better be prepared to fight for it.” Jake grinned menacingly, confident in the belief that Ryan would back down as usual. “You fucking…” He never finished the sentence because the smaller boy’s right fist slammed into his midriff winding him. Ryan’s left fist followed up with a sharp jab that connected with the side of Jake’s face. Jake staggered back surprised more by the fact that Ryan had actually attacked him than by the force of the blows. “You punched me, you bastard!” The other two boys were similarly shocked by the act and were stunned into inaction as Ryan caught the skateboard when Jake dropped it.

“I’ve been taking shit from you and the other’s since I got here,” Ryan yelled as Jake rubbed his cheek, “You think that just because I’m the new kid, that means it’s open season on me. That ends here, any of you wanna mess with me and I’ll beat the crap out of you. I don’t care if they kick me out of school and move me to another foster family. I ‘aint taking shit from any of you anymore.”

Red-faced, Jake pulled back his fist to launch a punch at Ryan’s face but the sudden sound of a car horn and the screech of tires from further up the road interrupted the brewing fight. Careening out-of-control down the steep and slippery road, the car swerved onto a collision course with the group, the desperate driver wrestling with the steering wheel. Jake’s two lackeys leapt out of the way of the approaching car but as Ryan was about to dive to the side, he saw that Jake was frozen with fear in the vehicle’s path. Without hesitation, he grabbed Jake and shoved him to the side at the last moment. The car slammed into Ryan and its impact forced him up over the bonnet, his head striking the windscreen. As the car crashed into the wall, it broke through its dry stone construction coming to a rest with its front wheels hanging precariously over the edge. Ryan slid down the wet bonnet, sent over the edge of the cliff by the momentum of the impact. Semi-conscious, he plummeted into the water seventy feet below.

The shock of hitting the cold water roused him from his stupor. Disorientated by the impact with the car’s windscreen and the fall into the water, his arms and legs flailed about in a desperate and uncoordinated attempt to keep afloat. Coughing and spluttering, his head repeatedly sank beneath the waves as the strong current pulled him away from the shore.

Back up at the top of the cliff Jake picked himself up off the tarmac, staring incredulously at the wrecked car as the driver staggered out. “Dude, that car almost pasted you!” One of his friends said as he grabbed Jake’s arm to pull him away from the scene.

“Uh, yeah,” he said vacantly, “I thought I was a goner until…” Jake stopped when he saw a school bag pinned crushed underneath the car. “Wait, where’s Ryan?”

“He um, pushed you out of the way and then the car hit him and I think he fell.”

Jake ran over to the wall and looked over the side. He could see Ryan struggling in the water, his panicked attempts to keep afloat already becoming weak. “Christ,” he said quietly, “I don’t think he can swim.”

Ryan was beginning to tire, fatigue from the exertion and lack of oxygen starting to set in. As his strength began to give out, he sank under the surface. Panicking, he thrashed wildly in a desperate attempt to get back to the surface but the more he tried, the faster he tired. Soon, his struggles weakened to the point where he was barely able to move and white sparkles of light were starting to flash across his vision as he ran out of air. “I’m not going to make it,” he realised dimly, his thoughts becoming as sluggish as his attempts to claw his way through the water. Eventually, he could hold his breath no longer and he involuntarily opened his mouth, breathing in the seawater and passing into unconsciousness.

Jake watched as Ryan disappeared under the choppy water, as the seconds dragged on and he did not resurface, a black hole opened in his stomach as he realised that he was watching someone drown. Unwilling to just stand by and watch it happen, he tore down the cliff path. H he knew that jumping from the cliff top would be potential suicide, there were numerous rocks hidden just below the surface of the water at the foot of the cliff. It had been a miracle that Ryan had missed them when he fell. Less than a minute after Ryan had gone under, Jake reached the point where the path turned onto a footbridge that crossed the river before it joined the sea at the harbour entrance. Taking a deep breath, vaulted over the guardrail and dived into the water. Jake was a strong swimmer and he quickly breaststroked to the point where he had seen Ryan go under. Frantically, he ducked under and searched the murky water for Ryan. It took several attempts before he finally located the smaller boy and pulled him to the surface. After making sure the Ryan’s head was above the water, Jake swam towards the quayside where the few fishing remaining fishing boats were moored alongside tour boats and private vessels. He headed towards the stairs that led down to the water, the nearest point where he could exit the water.

When he finally reached the stairs, people were already beginning to crowd the quayside and Jake hoped that one of them had had the foresight to dial 999. A man who looked like a tourist rather than a local helped him up the stairs. “Sarah,” he called out in an American accent, “get the blankets from the trunk.” The man took Ryan’s still form and carried him up the stairs to the quayside. Jake was met at the top of the stairs by blond-haired woman who wrapped the shivering boy in a blanket. Ryan was set down on the concrete floor, his eyes were closed and he was not breathing.

—-

Unseen to anyone, a figure watched the commotion from a distance. It was neither his nondescript attire nor his plain and average features that made him invisible to those around him. He was invisible because he chose to be. Azarin was a Collector, a minion that served one of the many demon lords that ruled the hell dimensions. His role, as his title suggested, was to collect the souls pledged to his lord regardless of whether they had been pledged willingly or not. The demon smiled. Collecting the souls of children was one thing but when they happened to be innocent too; that was just delicious. Scanning the growing crowd, he located his target watching the futile attempts at resuscitation in disbelief. This one had already escaped him once four years ago. This time, he would not be so lucky.

Unlike his physical body, Ryan’s spirit form was bone dry. At first, he couldn’t remember how he had come to be standing on the quayside but watching in horror as his own body was pulled out of the water, the accident and the events that had followed had come flooding back. He suddenly felt light headed, all strength left his knees and it felt like the whole world was spinning rapidly around him. As he bent over the railing, heaving up the contents of his stomach into the harbour water below, he was startled by a voice behind.

“Tough break kid,” it said conversationally, “of all the ways to go; drowning has to rank as one of the worst.” Ryan looked up at the man standing behind him. He was 6 feet in height, almost a full head taller than Ryan’s five-foot-five height and his powerful build made the fourteen-year-old look even smaller in comparison. The man appeared to be in his 30s and had short black hair.

“Are … are you talking to me?” Ryan asked the man, his voice still shaking.

Azarin looked down at him, smiling. “Do you see any other spirits around here?” Ryan looked at him confused.

“Am I dead?” Ryan asked, unsure if he really wanted to know the answer.

The man laughed. “Of course you are. Do you think that being able to look down on your own body while invisible and incorporeal is something a living person could do?” Azarin took the boy by the arm and lifted him to his feet. “Come on, time to go.”

“Go, go where?”

“Where do you think? The afterlife,” Azarin replied beginning to guide Ryan over towards the breakwater on the far side of the quay.

“Hold up,” a suddenly suspicious Ryan said, “just who the hell are you?”

Azarin smiled at the use of H word, “if only he knew,” he thought to himself. “I’m kind of like a guide sent to make sure you go to the right place.”

“Which is where exactly?”

“I suppose you could call it heaven,” Azarin lied, “it’s not quite how the scriptures describe but the idea is essentially the same. Besides, there are some people waiting for you there. Your mother and father I believe.” Ahead of them, a soft white glow had started to coalesce.

Looking up, Ryan saw only an honest face with kind eyes but Ryan had learned the hard way that people couldn’t be trusted, especially the honest looking ones. There was something about the man that made him uneasy. It was almost as if he was trying too hard to convince him. As they walked away from the crowd, Ryan looked back. “If I’m already dead, why is that man still using CPR?”

“Because humans have a hard time accepting death,” Azarin said tersely, “now hurry up, heaven won’t wait forever.”

“But,” Ryan said stopping and stepping away from Azarin, “he says I’ve got a pulse! How can I be dead if my heart is still beating?”

Azarin stopped and glared at the boy, his face smouldering. He grabbed the boy’s arm and dragged him roughly towards the swirling light on the breakwater. Screaming for help, he tried to pull away but Azarin was too strong and his grip tight enough to leave a bruise. “I fucking hate kids,” he snapped, “especially smart fuckers. You bastards never make it easy.”

“Help!” Ryan screamed in panic as he stumbled.

“Can it,” Azarin yelled half-pulling, half-dragging Ryan to his feet. “You’ll have plenty of time to scream where you’re going. That plane makes the sanitized place you call Hell look like Disney Land.” He stopped short of the glow and waved his free hand towards it. The soft light flared and erupted into fire. Angry red flames forming an oval ring of fire surrounding a black void, rippling like liquid as the light breeze blew across it.

When Ryan saw the flames, he froze in fear, forgetting his current situation. After the night when he had nearly burned to death four years ago, Ryan had been terrified of fire. Azarin picked up the petrified boy by the scruff of his neck and prepared to throw him into the portal. As he stood there, poised to throw, a white streak swept in front of him. It sliced across the portal, extinguishing the flames and dissipating the black void. The demon howled in rage and span around seeking the source of the streak.

Standing a short distance away was another man. The newcomer brushed his long chestnut hair out his face with one hand and caught a boomerang-like double-bladed weapon with the other. The weapon crackled with white liquid energy. He was younger than Azarin, probably not much older than 20. “Put the kid down demon,” he said with a cocky smirk.

“Who’s going to make me? A runt like you?” Azarin asked contemptuously.

“The name’s Daniel,” the newcomer said with a slight sarcastic bow, “and yeah, I’ll make you.”

Azarin sneered and threw Ryan to the floor. He landed roughly, smacking against the metal railings. Before he could recover, a wall of fire erupted around him cutting across the entire width of the breakwater. With fire in front and deep water behind, Ryan was trapped with no route of escape. “The boy belongs to my lord, he is soul pledged to him and there is nothing you can do about it. His blood was spilled with a blessed knife and by the terms of the deal his brother struck with my lord; this boy’s soul is forfeit upon his death.” Azarin flicked his wrists and two large swords appeared in his hands, their blades were wreathed in flames.

Daniel slowly walked towards Azarin, his boomerang splitting into two knifes, each crackling with liquid energy. “This boy is an innocent and you’re not taking him.” He charged forward, leaping at Azarin. The demon took a step back, crossing his swords in front of him as Daniel struck. Their blades connected and sent streamers of energy and sparks flying. Azarin pressed forward, his superior size and strength a clear advantage in the battle. Daniel was forced back, straining to hold his ground. His heart was racing, fear surging through him. He knew that he was no match for the demon, his training had not been completed but he had little choice but to fight. The demon thrusted forward, his left sword batting aside Daniel’s blades while his right slashed at Daniel’s chest. The younger man may not have been as strong as Azarin but he was faster. He saw the strike coming and twisted around the flaming blade. Azarin’s move had left his left side open to attack and Daniel seized the opportunity, raking the demon’s side with his blades. Hissing at the sudden pain, Azarin lashed out with his fist, striking the side of Daniels head. He rolled with the punch, moving swiftly around the demon and leaping onto his back. Azarin reached behind him, grabbed Daniel by the head, and flung him to the floor in front of him. Daniel grunted as he struck the ground and was unable to roll away when Azarin kicked him in the chest forcing him to drop his blades. The demon kicked him several times before picking him up and staring him in the face.

“In what world, did you ever think you had a hope in defeating me?” The demon sneered.

Daniel laughed painfully. “What makes you think I was trying to beat you?” He spat a glob of blood onto the pavement. “Crap, even in the spirit world this shit still hurts. I was just hoping to distract you long enough.”

Azarin looked at him confused. Then his eyes widened in realisation and he looked over to where he had left Ryan only to find the boy gone. “Dammit!” He yelled and turned back to Daniel to deal a killing blow. Daniel, however, merely smiled and waved goodbye as he faded from view, leaving Azarin holding nothing but air. The demon cursed, ranting and raving. Glancing around, he could see no sign of the Ryan’s spirit. Fuming, he reopened the portal. The boy had again avoided his fate; his master would not be in a good mood.

By now, paramedics had arrived and begun treating Ryan. His eye’s briefly fluttered open for a second before lapsed back into unconsciousness. Wasting no time, they loaded him into an ambulance for the 16-mile drive to Derriford, the nearest hospital with an A&E department. As the ambulance left, its sirens blaring, a policeman walked over to where Jake was sitting on a bench, shivering in his damp clothes. He sat down next to Jake and pulled him into a hug. “Let’s get you home and out of those wet clothes son.”

Jake smiled weakly and nodded. “Dad, I need a favour.”

—-

It had been over an hour since Susan and Anthony Johnson had arrived at the hospital. Over an hour since the police had turned up on their doorstep with the news that one of their foster children had been rushed to hospital. They had dropped everything, got in the car, and driven down to the hospital with their other foster child, twelve-year-old Trey Bennet in the back seat. The drive had taken nearly half-an-hour on the twisty Cornish roads but eventually they had reached Derriford.

They had been sitting in the relatives’ room since they had arrived waiting for a doctor. Trey was sitting in a chair, hugging his hitched up knees. Susan was next to him, her arm around his shoulder. The two boys had only known each other for a month, but in sharing a bedroom, they had both discovered each other’s love of comic books. A connection had been forged between them as they had argued over who made the best comics, Marvel or DC.

A doctor entered the room and looked over at the couple. “Mr and Mrs Johnson?” He asked.

They nodded in response and Anthony got up, walking over to the doctor. “Yes, how’s Ryan doctor? No one seems able to tell us anything.”

“Ryan was in a serious accident,” he explained sitting down in chair he pulled over to the couple, “he took a nasty blow to the head when the car hit him and was unconscious when he was pulled from the water. He briefly regained consciousness when the paramedics arrived but lost consciousness soon after. Ryan’s a lucky boy, if hadn’t received first aid when he did, things could have been a lot worse.” He didn’t need to say just how bad it could have been. “As it is, apart from a few cuts and bruises he’s in good shape.”

“So he’s gonna be ok?” Trey asked.

The doctor looked over at the boy and nodded. “He woke up a few minutes ago, he’s still a little woozy but that’s to be expected. We’ll be keeping him in overnight for observation but I see no reason why he shouldn’t be able to go home tomorrow.”

“Can we go in and see him doctor?”

“Sure, follow me.” The doctor led them through the hospital corridors to the room where Ryan was lying in bed. There was a bandage across his forehead and the doctor explained that he’d needed a few stitches.

As they entered the room, Ryan’s eyes flicked over to the door and he smiled weakly. Trey ran over to the side of the bed with a concerned look. “You look terrible.” Ryan laughed, wincing slightly at the unexpected pain in produced.

Ryan’s foster parents joined Trey by the bed looking relieved that he appeared to be ok. “Hey champ, how do you feel?” Asked Anthony.

“Like I went five rounds with Hatton.”

Susan brushed a few stray hairs out of his face. “We’re glad you’re ok, you had us worried.”

“I brought you this,” Trey said holding out a small package, crudely wrapped in wrapping paper. “Happy birthday,” he said as Ryan took it.

“I … I thought no one remembered,” he answered.

“Of course we remembered, we wouldn’t forget something like that.” Susan said.

“But I…”

Anthony put a hand on Ryan’s shoulder. “You were up so early this morning and in such a hurry that you left before we could say anything.”

“You gonna open it or what?” Trey asked impatiently. Ryan ripped off the wrapping paper to reveal a stack of comic books. Flicking through them, he realised that they were all issues of his favourite comics that he was missing.

“Thanks, I mean it.” He reached over and ruffled the younger boy’s hair, something he knew Trey hated. Trey batted and slapped at Ryan’s arm who laughed warmly.

“Ow, hit a man when he’s down why don’t you.”

Ryan’s Story – The Incident

WARNING: This story includes incest, the rape of a small child and murder. If you are easily offended, do yourself a favour and don’ read any further.

Ryan (just prior to his 10th birthday) and his older brother Mark who is already planning his family's murder

Ryan awoke with a start, dragged prematurely from his dreams for some unknown reason. His room was dark, the moonlight filtering in through the small window and casting a square of illumination on his prized SpongeBob poster. When he looked over at the radio by his bed, he saw that it had only just gone midnight. Sleepily, he lay back in his bed and tried to get back to sleep. Just as he was about to drop off, he heard a sound from downstairs. It sounded like something falling to the floor followed by a muffled cry that was cut short. Sitting upright now, he listened carefully and could just about hear voices from the living room below. He couldn’t make out what they were saying but he could tell that the tone was harsh. Slowly he got out of bed, making sure not to make the floorboards creak beneath him as he walked. Ryan picked up the plastic hockey stick that he had received for this tenth birthday last month and quietly opened his bedroom door. A voice in the back of his head was warning him of danger, warning him to go and hide but he was too young to understand what it was saying.

Across the landing, the door to his parents’ bedroom was open. Light from the streetlights outside cast an orange glow into the room and he saw that the bedcovers had been wildly thrown aside. There were small sticky spots on the carpet creating a trail towards the stairs down. Ryan, only ten, was only dimly aware that they were blood stains as he crept down the hallway to the stairs, passing the closed door to his older brother’s room. He paused for a second before remembering that Mark was spending the night at a friend’s house. As he reached the top of the stairs, harsh laughter barked from the living room followed by a muffled scream. “Mum?” the boy asked quietly, grasping the hockey stick like a weapon.

A figure stepped out of the living room and stood at the bottom of the stairs looking up Ryan. The figure was 5’9” and dressed from head-to-toe in black. Black pants, black hooded sweatshirt, and a black balaclava mask hiding his face. He was holding a vicious looking combat knife, its 12-inch blade slick with blood. The figure’s front was covered with something that glistened in the light from the living room. As their eyes met, Ryan realised that the substance on the figure’s front was blood. A wet patch appeared on Ryan’s pyjama bottoms as he lost control of his bladder. The figure took a step up the stairs, Ryan’s bravery broke and he dropped the hockey stick, fleeing towards his bedroom. Behind him, he could hear the figure thundering up the stairs.

The boy ran into his bedroom, intent on escaping through the window by climbing out onto the roof of the garage and jumping down to the ground. However, the small boy could only run so fast and before he had even got more than a foot into the room, he was tackled from behind. Ryan was shoved against the wall and then to the floor, kicking and screaming. In the commotion, a picture was knocked off the wall, the glass breaking as it hit the floor. “Mumdadhelpgetoffmehelp.” A gloved hand clamped itself across his mouth, silencing his cries for help. Ryan punched at the figure’s face and kicked him in the groin. The figure grunted, releasing Ryan who tried to scramble to his feet but didn’t get far. Growling angrily, the figure grabbed Ryan by the throat, squeezing and cutting off the air to his lungs. Ryan brought his small hands up the figure’s wrists, trying to loosen the grip, but it was no use, he wasn’t strong enough. In desperation, he beat ineffectually at the figure, only ceasing when his vision started to cloud and his arms fell limply to his sides. Mercifully, the figure released his grip on the boy’s throat, dropping Ryan to the floor. Barely able to maintain consciousness, he was unable to resist as he was picked up and thrown roughly onto his bed. Ryan heard the sound of something ripping and felt his hands been pulled behind him and taped together at the wrists. Another piece of tape was wrapped across his mouth, gagging him.

Lying there, terrified breaths rasping through his nose, he could feel the menacing presence of the figure standing above him. For a few brief seconds, Ryan wondered what the figure was waiting for and then he got his answer. Rough hands dragged his pants down to his ankles and forced his legs apart. His strength returning, Ryan tried to crawl away across the bed only to be dragged back by his ankle. He heard a zip being undone as the figure pulled his own pants and boxers down. Ryan’s green eyes widened in horror, and his breaths became fast and ragged as the he saw the figure’s already erect penis. The figure wasted no time and flipped the boy onto his stomach. Strong hands gripped him, holding him down. Ryan closed his eyes, tears streaming down his face and soaking into the mattress as he wished with every fibre of his soul that his older brother would come home and save him. The bed dipped as the figure knelt astride the boy and then, without any warning, the figure’s penis slammed into his anus and Ryan screamed. The tape across his mouth muffled any cries but he didn’t care, he screamed until he became hoarse. The figure suddenly pulled out until only the tip was inside and then he slammed back in again, just as roughly as before. Ryan screamed again, his cries ragged as the figure began to thrust in and out of the boy. Unable to move under the figure’s grip as he lay beneath him, Ryan could only lie there and pray that it would be over soon. The figure did not pay attention to the boy’s screams as the thrusted harder and harder as he came to a climax. His semen spilled into Ryan, further lubricating his bleeding anus. Taking advantage of this, the man thrusted into him harder than ever, enjoying the sounds of the boy’s screams. Finally, the figure exited the broken ten-year old and pulled his pants up. Ryan lay there quietly crying into the mattress, the tape across his mouth muffling his sobs.

The figure grabbed Ryan by the collar of his t-shirt and pulled him to his feet. Ryan was he was half-dragged down the stairs and into the living room. Through tear-blurred eyes, he saw another person, his face concealed by a scarf standing over his naked mother, pulling up a pair of ratty long shorts. “Dude,” the person said as he saw Ryan dragged into the room, “what took you so long?” The person sounded young, probably no more than 16 or 17. “Oh, had a bit of fun with the runt eh.” The youth said when he saw the blood dribbling down the back of Ryan’s legs. Ryan was allowed to fall onto the floor and he curled up, whimpering softly. Looking over towards his mother, he saw her lifeless eyes staring vacantly into space. A pool of blood was slowly forming around her head, forming from the blood leaking from a cut across her neck. Next to her lay his father, dead from cut across his neck that had almost decapitated him.

The youth walked over to Ryan and kneeling down on one knew, yanking the boy up by his hair. Looking over to his companion who walked up behind him, he picked up a knife. “You were right, he is cute.” He dragged the flat of the blade softly across the boy’s throat. Ryan had retreated into a dark place in his mind unable to cope, virtually insensate to what was happening around him. “You remember the deal right? I get to bang him and gut him before you do that ritual thing.”

“Actually,” said his partner, the familiar sound of his voice causing Ryan to open his eyes. “There was something I forget tell you.” He grabbed the youth’s head and pulled it back baring his throat. In one swift motion his combat knife slashed across the youth’s throat spraying Ryan in the face with his blood. The youth fell to the floor twitching as he died. “The ritual requires the slaying of one’s best friend as well as his family.”

Ryan had trouble accepting what he was hearing as the figure bent down next to the cowering boy and looked into his confused eyes. He shook the hood off his head and pulled the balaclava up revealing the face of his 17-year-old brother.

“Mark!” Ryan cried from behind the tape as he tried to wriggle backwards. His brother looked down at him, a thing smile of contempt on his face. Ryan’s mind raced as the full horror of his brother’s betrayal crashed down on him. He became light headed; the room spinning as Mark grabbed his hair and pulled him into a standing position. Positioning himself behind Ryan, Mark whispered into his ear.

“You were always a whiney little bitch.” Out of the corner of his eye, Ryan saw the light glint off the blade as the bloodied knife was brought to his throat. Screaming, Ryan closed his eyes as he felt the sharp blade of the knife pierce into the flesh of his neck, slicing across it and tearing the skin. Mark dropped his younger brother onto the floor, laughing coldly as the boy’s blood began to soak into the carpet. As the blackness closed and he passed out, Ryan felt himself dragged roughly across the floor. Then he felt nothing.

Ryan’s eyes opened sometime later and he found himself lying on the floor of his parents’ bedroom. The cut across his neck had not been deep enough to kill him outright but had had lost a lot of blood and was still bleeding. He was woozy from the blood-loss as he tried to sit up and failed. Listening intently, he couldn’t hear his brother anywhere near, only the faint sound of crackling. From where he was lying, he could see the bodies of his parents. He could also the body of the youth that Mark had killed. For some reason he had been redressed in some of Mark’s clothes, his hands bound with tape and gagged. The crackling sound was growing louder and the floor was getting warmer. There was also a strange smell, barely masked by what Ryan suddenly recognised as the smell of burning. It took a few seconds but he eventually recognised the strange odour as the smell of petrol. As he became more alert, he realised with a start that the floor was soaked in it and so was he.

With renewed strength, Ryan struggled to his feet and staggered over to the bedroom door. Using his elbows, he clumsily opened the door only to be assailed by the heat and smoke wafting up the stairs. Coughing, he made for the stairs. The stairs were already engulfed by fire and the flames were rapidly clawing their way up towards the first floor. Ryan was overcome by the heat and smoke, falling back against the wall. Lying on the floor, he gasped for air and started to feel darkness close in as he drifted into unconsciousness. However, the boy fought against it, forcing the blackness back out his vision. He vowed to himself that he wouldn’t give in; that he would survive to tell someone what had happened.

Crawling along the floor, he made it into his bedroom, closing the door behind him. With his hands bound behind his back, he knew he wasn’t going to get far. A piece of glass from the broken picture frame cracked under his knee, slightly cutting it. Realising that this might be his chance, he grasped the piece of glass and carefully began to cut at the tape. It took several minutes for him to cut the tape and by the time he was done his wrists were slicked with blood from small cuts caused by the glass shard. Ripping off the tape gag, he rushed over to the window. By now, smoke was filling his room and the paint on the door was starting to bubble from the intense heat on the other side. Ryan could see the orange glow of fire under the door jam, and little licks of flame were starting to leak around the sides. To his horror, he found the window was locked, a security bolt preventing him from opening it. It was getting difficult to breath, the heat in the room was soaring and the smoke caused coughing fits strong enough to make white light dance in front of his eyes with each cough. In panic, he looked around his room for something heavy, and in desperation, he picked up the Playstation and started beating on the window. It took several attempts but eventually the glass shattered

The cool night air flooded into the room as he climbed out on the garage roof, cutting his palms and knees in the process. At this point, the fire in the house flashed-over, exploding outwards and consuming the main structure in a fireball. Ryan was flung from the roof of the garage by the blast and into the garden where he lay dazed for several seconds. As he started crawling towards the road, he could hear sirens. The blue flashing lights illuminating the neighbourhood. As he passed out, Ryan felt gently hands pick him up and begin to carry him away from the house.