I’m sitting alone on the second to the last row on the right side of bus 354. My fingers are twirling a piece of cotton from the seat and I am staring out of the window. We are passing through a neighborhood called Cloverdale. It isn’t as nice as The Highlands, but it is a really nice area. Every home seems to have an old earth tone colored sedan parked in the driveway, evidence that most of people living here are elderly.
Cloverdale isn’t as gaudy of a neighborhood as The Highlands, but I still find myself judging the people that live here. A man, probably in his late sixties, is walking down his driveway eating a bag of chips. He gets to end of his driveway, picks up his newspaper and chunks the half bag of chips into the garbage can sitting at the street. I find myself getting increasingly annoyed as the man heads back toward his house.
How could he be so wasteful?
But I’m not really upset about the chips. I am upset because this is my first day of high school and my new bus route doesn’t go through The Bottoms. I won’t be able to give Fat Diggy his daily meals anymore. Cloverdale, with its wasteful old people and their earth tone sedans, replaces the usual stop between The Magnolias and Starky’s Gentleman’s Club.
This past summer, my mother got the owner of Rustic to give me a job washing dishes a few days a week. Being in the kitchen with a bunch of chefs meant food...lots of food. I used my money to buy some plastic containers and I started taking home dishes like grilled shrimp with chili-lime butter, beef bourguignon, and sautéed chicken with dill orzo. On the days that I had off, I warmed up the food in our microwave and carried it to The Bottoms. It isn’t really that far. I would cut through the forest that surrounded our neighborhood and go down the mountain. I even found a few blackberry patches to pick berries from and take them to Fat Diggy. It was a trip that my mother would never let me make, so I could only do it on the days that I was off and she was still at work. I brought him enough food to last for two meals, which for him was enough for two days. I had to bring a lot more on Friday because he had to make it the whole weekend without me. Finally I told the other chefs what I was up to and they loaded me down with enough for Fat Diggy to eat twice a day.
For the first few days I had to walk an extra two miles to get to the alley beside the liquor store where Fat Diggy lived with his shopping cart full of aluminum cans, but once Fat Diggy realized that I didn’t have my ‘yellow car’ anymore, he began to meet me closer to where the forest ended and The Bottoms began. I helped him build a new house out of cardboard boxes behind a general store called Lola’s. I figured that if he were addicted to alcohol then this would be a much better place for him to be than outside of a liquor store. Lola even agreed to let Fat Diggy use her microwave to warm up food on days that I couldn’t come.
But now the summer is over and I am stuck on bus 354, riding through Cloverdale instead of The Bottoms. So today, I am going to ask my mother to take me to The Bottoms to give food to Fat Diggy. I would have to appeal to her soft spot, me, and let her know that Fat Diggy isn’t just some project. He is my friend. I realize that I cannot feed all of the homeless people in the world. I cannot even feed all the homeless in The Bottoms of Planko, but I can feed Fat Diggy. I had been doing it all summer without her help, but trudging through the woods and down a mountain after school every day isn’t going to fly with my mom or my dad. Maybe she will be willing to help.
I move my hand from the cotton in the seat and begin to fiddle with my own hair. It is long and curly like my mother’s. Over the summer I had to take a bath as soon as I got back from seeing Fat Diggy, because if not my mother could smell the woods in my hair.
As we near the stop sign at the end of my street, there is a loud screech and the bus swerves. We rock up onto two wheels and I am thrown from my seat, toppling to floor, hitting my temple on someone’s knee. I try to stand but the bus flops back down and then rocks up onto the other two wheels, like it is deciding which way it wants to flip over. I’m just praying that it doesn’t.
There is more weight on the right side of the bus and we finally come to a stop resting on a brick mailbox. I shake the cobwebs from my sore head and look around me. No one appears to be hurt, but the girls are screaming and crying, and the bus driver is hanging from his seatbelt, unconscious.
What was he trying to avoid hitting?
I look outside. Nothing. I turn around and look out of the back window. I can just make out what looks like a gigantic black bird flying down the street. It looks to be about the size of an adult man. My breathing halts as my eyes focus. On the bird’s back is a pair of red and orange wings. It is the man from my dream.
“Do you see that?” asks one of the kids on the bus. It is Timothy, a boy who was sitting alone on the opposite side of the bus from me. He had come over to see what I was looking at. I have never seen Timothy speak to anyone, and no one seems to mind, but I am glad to be sharing this moment with him now. I hadn’t been dreaming that night after all, and his presence lets me know that I am not dreaming now.
“I thought I was going crazy for a second.” I say.
Before the words can fully leave my lips I see Geoffrey, Remington, and Hilton chasing the cloaked man. They are running on all fours with their dreadlocks blowing behind them in the wind. I have seen them run similarly during their football games, but never this fast.
Something has gone horribly wrong at my house. I can feel it. The bus driver is still knocked out. The other kids on the bus are in a total frenzy. The boys are scrambling around the bus trying to get a look the dreaded boys running down on all four legs the street. The girls are weeping and frantically searching through their backpacks for their cell phones. Some people have already called their parents or 911. They are all trying to describe the huge bird and the boys running after it, but from the sounds of it, no one is having much success.
The bus was almost at my stop when it toppled over, so I decide to ditch the bus and head home. The emergency crews will be arriving soon and it could take hours for them to release me and let me go home so I am better off just walking. I pop the emergency latch and hop down into the street. My legs are sore and my head is still pounding from hitting my temple.
Another set of feet land in the street behind me. Timothy is following me. The short conversation we had, if you can call it that, must have meant to him that we were friends. Or maybe he is just afraid and doesn’t want to be left in the sea of panic that is bus 354. I slow down so that we can walk side by side.
“What do you think that thing was?” Timothy asks.
“I think...he’s a friend of my family.”
We are nearing the stop sign that normally marks my bus stop when I hear a loud howling noise coming from the direction of my house. The dogs. Something is wrong. My pace quickens. Timothy’s does too.
I can feel my heart lowering itself into my stomach.
“I’ve got to go.” I say.
“Alright I will see you tomorrow.”
I give a half smile and turn to my house at the end of the cul-de-sac. For some reason I don’t think that I will see Timothy tomorrow and it makes me sad. I think that we could have been good friends. My pace turns into a full sprint. Now my head is pounding to the cadence of my run, and my heart twice as fast. A wave of pain shocks me with every step I make. As my house comes into view I see three pitch-black shapes standing outside of my door.
Is that…the dogs?
Princeton, Kingston, and Oxford are standing up on their two hind legs, and they appear to be having a very humanlike conversation.
Maybe this is all a dream.
Maybe I bumped my head harder than I thought. My cousins were running down the street like dogs and their dogs are standing on my porch like humans. As I approach the porch Oxford quickly turns away and goes inside my house.
My foot lands on the first porch steps and I hear a raspy voice saying,
“Ash it’s terrible.”
I look around for the voice’s origin, because the obvious answer is too ridiculous to be true. I quickly realize that no one else is around. It is Princeton!! Princeton the dog is talking.
I heard what the dog said, but my brain can’t decide whether to process what the dog said or process the fact that the dog said anything at all. Kingston walks over to me, on his hind legs, and puts his paw on my shoulder.
“Ash,” he says, “It’s bad. Why don’t you just stay out here with us?”
“What is going on?”
I really want to know why the dogs are talking more than I want to know what they are talking about, because deep down I know it is bad news.
“Your parents…” says Princeton.
I push past the dogs, not even acknowledging their attempts to stop me, and run into the house. The place is a mess. The entire first floor is still smoldering. I can tell that a fire has just recently been extinguished. The house has been ransacked. There is not a chair or table left in tact in the living room. It smells of smoke, blood and some kind of meat that I cannot identify. There must be more to the story than a simple fire because fire doesn’t usually leave blood and claw marks. My Uncle Max is on his knees in the kitchen. Oxford is standing over him with his paw on his back. When he sees me come in, he runs to the kitchen’s entrance, standing in my line of sight. He is very obviously trying to hide something from me. I have a feeling I shouldn’t challenge the dog.
“You can’t go back there Ash.” He says to me.
My Uncle Max gets up and walks somberly past Oxford and kneels beside me. He lays a bloodied hand on my shoulder. His fingernails are long and they look like sharpened claws. There is blood and grunge under them and he has streaks of soot going up his arm. His shirt has been torn and his face is scratched. His eyes look wild and I think they are what my father calls dilated, whatever that means.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” he finally says to me, “I’m so sorry boy.”
Translation, my parents are dead.
A sickening feeling rushes into my stomach. My head feels like it is no longer attached to my body. Tears stream from my eyes and my breath begins to heave. I decide to run, but my legs don’t work. A chill runs up my body. It takes all the strength inside of me to continue standing.
My uncle’s burned, bloody hands are shaky on my shoulder. I look into his face and I realize that there is no emotion, at least not one that I can recognize. He flicks a dread from his face and stares at the floor, waiting on me to take it in.
I push his hand from my shoulder and try to walk into the kitchen. My uncle blocks me with his massive arm.
“Let me go.”
I shove his arm out of my way and make a run for the kitchen. I feel a tug at the back of my shirt. I am lifted from the floor and flung over my uncle’s head, into the living room. My head smacks the wall. I open my eyes and clear the tears that have flooded them. My headache is even worse now. Every heartbeat blurs my vision. I look up and see that my Uncle Max, Princeton, Kingston, and Oxford are all standing around me. The wall is behind me. I’m surrounded.
No one is speaking. No one else is showing any emotion. I am standing in the center of three black beasts, and my bloodied uncle.
Whatever they are hiding is worth my uncle attacking me over. I can’t help but wonder if he is the culprit. My mother had always said that Uncle Maxwell’s worst quality was his temper. I have to find some way to get out of this house.
“Just calm down. No one else has to get hurt.” Says my uncle.
The only energy that I have left in my body is from fear and adrenaline. I use the wall to stand myself up; and I shove past the dogs, using the element of surprise to offset their obvious strength advantage. I run out of the front door and away from the house as fast as I can. I don’t care about what is in the kitchen anymore. The one thing that I know for certain is that my parent’s are dead and that I need to get far away.
So I run.
I run because it is the only thing that I know to do. It is the one thing in my life that I am good at. When I am running the world and all my problems seem to disappear. This particular outing won’t have that effect. The dogs and Uncle Max call out after me, but I am not going to stop running. I hear the pattering of footsteps behind me and I know that my uncle and the beasts are chasing me, which only makes me run faster.
I stumble into Mr. Bray’s yard and up onto his porch. I bang on the door as hard as I can.
My hand starts to go numb so I stop pounding on the door, but I continue to scream his name hoping that someone will hear me and let me in, but there is no answer.
I catapult over Mr. Bray’s privacy fence, ignoring the family of splinters that lodge themselves in my palm, and run through his back yard. I try to scale the fence at the back of the yard, but my foot catches on the electrical fence that Mr. Bray uses to keep his dog from escaping, and a stinging sensation wraps around my legs. I force myself over the fence and I fall onto the moss-ridden ground of the forested mountain behind The Highlands.
The only place that I can think to go is The Bottoms. The only friend I have is Fat Diggy. I know that Fat Diggy can’t protect me, but maybe he can at least give me a place to hide. The spaceships have come, and I need him to pay me back with something far more valuable to me right now than money. I need safety.
There is rustling behind me and I know that the dogs and my Uncle Max have also scaled the fence and they are in hot pursuit. I sprint down the mountain, being careful not to trip over tree stumps or holes in the ground. The precaution slows me down. The sound of their feet grows louder in my ear. I veer off my usual path trying my best lose them.
The sound of my uncle and the mutant hounds begins to fade as they continue on the trail and for a moment I feel safe, but I keep running. My legs won’t let me stop. I try to keep an eye out for roots and anything else that can trip me as I traverse the unfamiliar grounds, but tears take over my eyes. I can barely see. I close my eyes to try and clear my tear filled vision. In that split second, I trip. My foot catches on something, and I’m going down.
I land on my side and begin to roll down the mountain. I can feel the stumps and rocks tearing away at my skin as easily as I tear away at the cotton in the bus seats. I can’t seem to stop myself from rolling. My path is revealed to me in short flashes before I’m turned away and then spun back around again. I’m reaching the end of the Earth. The ground disappears only a few feet in front of me and I realize that I am nearing a cliff.
This is it. I’m going to die.
I bounce off the side of the cliff and enter free fall. I open my eyes and I can see the nearest landing is at least thirty feet down and it is jagged rock. If I don’t hit that then I will continue to fall through a canopy of trees and hit the ground one hundred and fifty feet below.
There is no hope.
I think about the stories that my dad used to tell me at bedtime when I was younger. The fairy tales about how he went to this special school and learned to fly through the sky. I wish deeply that those weren’t fairy tales and that my dad had taught me to fly. I think about my mother. The forest had been her inspiration for coffee brushed brisket with asparagus, a dish that had gotten her the job as head chef at Rustic.
Rustic. Food. Fat Diggy.
I think about Fat Diggy. My friend. My heart sinks as I realize that without me Fat Diggy may starve on the streets of The Bottoms.
I think about James. I have been resenting him for not staying at Planko Middle School with me and for not keeping in touch. But I forgive him. I don’t want to die with hatred in my heart.
We were been friends for less than ten minutes, but I already miss him.
I know now that I will not be seeing him tomorrow.
This must be what it means for your life to flash before your eyes. The faces of people I know roll through my brain like home movie. Family members and even people that I have only seen in the store or on a visit to The Bottoms to see Fat Diggy, flash in my brain.
As I finish saying my goodbyes to the world I realize that this fall is taking too long. I should have hit the jagged rocks by now.
I can’t bring myself to open my eyes. They have a will of their own. Who could blame them? I am going to die and I am sure that my brain doesn’t want to see it coming.
My entire body is suddenly swept up into the air and I feel like I am being pulled through a straw; constricted and squeezed one moment and stretched like a balloon in the next. Then I am spat back out of the straw and the feeling of falling returns. I still cannot convince my eyes to open. I am falling endlessly. One second my legs seem to be over my head and the next I don’t feel like they are attached to my body at all.
My speed decreases and I am wafted into a soft landing. It’s too soft. I feel like I am lying on a cloud. My eyes quit betraying me and I open my eyes to see that I am in my parent’s bedroom, lying in their bed.
This is all a dream.
It isn’t a dream. My head is still throbbing. I have bruises all over my body I can feel blood trickling out of a cut above my eyebrow. I twist in the bed and feel blood gush out of another wound in my side.
How did I get here?
How did I get under the covers in my parent’s bed?
My mother always makes up the bed with military precision, and I am tucked tightly into the center of the bed. The rest of the sheets remained undisturbed. This day is just getting increasingly stranger. I don’t want to try to figure it out. I am in so much pain, physically and emotionally. I want to sleep it away in the comfort of my parent’s bed. I hold my split side together as I turn over onto my stomach.
I cry, partially from the pain, but mostly from the thought of losing my parents. Tears soak the pillow and my heaving causes more pain which in turn leads to more crying.
If I die right here I don’t think I will mind.
I tuck my left arm under the pillow causing a crumpling sound in the pillowcase. I reach inside and pull out a folded piece of paper. I’m reminded of the notes that James and I used to pass back and forth in class, but this one feels different. It is old parchment paper. The edges are rotting away. The paper reads:
Rest your weary head, my dear
Your father and I will always be here.
Though happiness may seem far behind
Not far from the desert, it’s meadows you’ll find
The days, as they pass, bring more joy than the last
More light than even bright days of the past
More smiles and laughter, the sunniest weather
As you lie, may your head be light as a feather
A tear falls on the page as I remember this short song of my mother’s. As a child, whenever I was sad, she would sing short songs to me that she had written herself, while she caressed my hair. Once, Remington had dropped me during one of my cousin’s rough greetings and I hit my head. I was bleeding and sure that I was going to need stitches but my mom held my head on her lap and sang this song to me. I fell asleep and when I woke up I felt completely better. That won’t happen this time.
Tears pour from my eyes as I realize that I am thinking about my mother in the past tense. I have no mother to sing to me or heal the pain that I am feeling right now. If I continue to bleed at this rate, I won’t find meadows just beyond the desert. And although my body is crying for sleep, my head is not light as a feather. It is heavy with the burdens of the day. I tuck the letter into my pocket and allow my head to fall into the pillow. The smell of my mother’s perfume and my father’s cologne fills my nostrils and I weep remembering all the nights that I slept between them when I was younger. Remembering when I slept between them a year and a half ago after my dream. The dream that I am now positive was not a dream at all.
I must have cried myself to sleep because it is eight o’clock. My body feels like it has been through war. There is heaviness in my chest that I assume will never go away, at least not for some time. There is also a void in my stomach. I haven’t eaten since lunch and my stomach has no concern for my current situation. There is only one problem. I know absolutely nothing about cooking and since my dad hates leftovers, I know that there is nothing in the refrigerator besides maybe the uncooked ingredients that my mother was going to make dinner today. I consider calling James’ mother Mrs. Aiston, but I have no idea what I will say. “My uncle and his talking dogs killed my parents” doesn’t sound like the best way to start a conversation.
I decide to go downstairs and see if any cookies are left until I figure something else out.
I roll over in the bed to head to the kitchen, but before I can get up a hand lands on my arm. Thinking that my uncle has come to finish what he started with my parents, I jump back across the king sized bed and plaster myself against the wall putting the bed between us.
I realize that I am not in any pain. I put my hand to my head and search for the cut, but it is gone without so much as a trace. I put my hand under my shirt to feel for the slit in my side and I find the same thing. Nothing. I have no bruises and my headache is gone.
I look up and I see the man in the black cloak; wings with red and orange feathers protrude from his back. They give off a glow and I can feel strange warmth coming from them. The massive limbs flutter with life each time the man takes a breath.
“Quindolous,” the man says, “My name is Elder Quindolous Argent.”
I want to run, but there is no way out of the room without going through the birdman. He pulls back the hood to his cloak to reveal his face and folds his wings away behind him, obviously trying to look less threatening.
He has pale skin kind of like my dad’s, and a head full of thick gray hair pulled back into a ponytail. A long well kept beard flows from his chin. He is obviously old, but without the gray hair I wouldn’t be able to tell how old, because his face has so few wrinkles. A faint antique gold trim adorns the sleeves and hem of his cloak. Imprinted in the gold trim seem to be symbols that look like hieroglyphics. But I could be wrong. We studied Egyptian culture once in school, but I wasn’t paying attention.
I finally gather the courage to speak.
“I’ve seen you before. Once outside my window, and today you flipped over my school bus. What do you want?”
“The same thing that I have wanted all along.” Quindolous says. “To save you. You are not safe here. You have to come with me. If you had only come that night when I was outside of your window that night then all of this could have been avoided.”
His words hit me like a bullet and I feel a pressure right under my ribcage.
Is all of this my fault?
Were my parents murdered because I was too afraid to listen to this strange man?
“Did you kill my parents? I know that you were here this afternoon!”
“Yes boy, I was here.” Quindolous says. “But I was trying to save them. Your uncle had his claws at Carter’s throat when I arrived. He killed your father as soon as he saw me coming. When your mother tried to escape he killed her too. I fought with him, but your six cousins jumped me. Filthy cannibals. They proved to be too much of a match for me to handle so I fled. I bet they didn’t even want you to come in the house. There was not even a body, my boy, even you would have figured out the truth before nightfall.”
“My SIX cousins?”
I heard everything else that he said, but I had already come to that conclusion myself.
“My poor boy, I have so much to tell you.”
The confused look on my face cannot truly express how lost I really am. Somehow I know that my life is about to change forever. My nerves are at ease now. I feel like I can trust Quindolous, but I remain plastered against the back wall of my parent’s bedroom, just to be safe.
“I guess I will start at the beginning.” He says. “Homo aptus was the very first species of modern human beings. They were connected directly to the Earth in which they came from. This species of human was capable of incredible feats, things that most can only dream of today. The type of things that can only be hinted at in fantasy novels, fairytales, and comic books. People lived healthily for hundreds of years. Men could take to the sky to fly alongside the birds and dragons. Travel from one side of the planet to the other could be accomplished in a few seconds time, through a technique called porterating. When their own bodily strength wasn’t enough they learned to combine their physical beings with the beasts of the earth to become even stronger through a process called futation. Wounds, like the ones you had, could be healed in a few moments time.”
When he said the beginning, he really meant the beginning. Quindolous continues, telling me a history that I am pretty sure I wasn’t ever taught in any history class. If history was this interesting, I would pay more attention.
According to Quindolous, there is no such thing as evolution, at least not the way that most scientists understand it. Most organisms, humans especially, are subject to devolution.
“After the first millennia, a pandemic, an outbreak of a disease called celoatrum, caused mutations in many of the children born during that time. It gave rise to another species of human that we currently refer to today as Homo sapiens. While their genetic makeup is similar, Homo sapiens are missing their link to the earth and as a result have none of the abilities of Homo aptus.”
As the population of the Earth grew, and Homo sapiens became more and more prevalent, the abilities of Homo aptus became dangerous to society’s wellbeing. Homo aptus were still the dominant species of human and they began using their abilities for personal gain and aimed their strength at the neck of their weaker brothers.
“One gang of men in particular, who had futated themselves with dinosaurs and other monstrous creatures, terrorized the Earth. They enslaved thousands of Homo sapiens and killed thousands of others. Their reign of terror was finally brought to an end by a group of twenty men called Scorpious Order. These men put a stop to the gang.”
I don’t think that I could believe this story at all if the man telling it didn’t have a big set of glowing wings coming from his back.
“To be sure that nothing like this ever happened again, Scorpious Order split the world into twenty regions called the Twenty Torches and established a government to protect all of humanity from terrorism. Each of them ruled over a territory as its Supreme Torch. They outlawed any of the abilities that made Homo aptus superior to the Homo sapiens. People were no longer allowed to fly, porterate, or futate with other animals. An uncountable number of other abilities were also banned in the name of equality. Each Supreme Torch selected governors to help them enforce the new laws and help people get accustomed to a new way of life. The Supreme Torches and the governors became the new Scorpious Order.”
Powers, Supremes, governors, Scorpious Order. Maybe this is what my mother used to mean by the term mental note. I am listening more intently than I have ever listened to any lecture in school.
“Scorpious Order realized, that if nothing was done, the knowledge of humanity’s original power would be lost within a few generations. While the world was much safer without the abilities, they did not want them to be lost all together. They decided that when a male descendant of the Twenty Supreme Torches or their governors matriculated to the age of thirteen his father would enlighten his son to the heroics of his ancestors and send him off for a proper five years of training at the Avant Institute of Forgotten Arts, or as most refer to it, the Avant Institute.”
That must be the special school that my dad went to. All this time, I thought that he had been telling me fairytales, when in reality he was sharing part of his life with me.
“Are you telling me that my dad is a descendant of the Scorpious Order?”
“Yes boy…as are you. You are from the lineage of the Fifth Torch. You are what we call a Pure Fifth Torch. Descended directly from the Supreme Fifth Cadbury Dunsmouth Pendington.”
I am a descendant of the Scorpious Order? My chest pokes itself out at the thought.
“So, is my mom...?”
“Oh, of course not.” Quindolous says. “Andrea is a Mundane.”
A Mundane must be a Homo sapien.
“If two Homo sapiens have a child they bear a Homo sapien. But since Homo sapiens are only missing one piece of the code that gives us our abilities, a Homo aptus and a Homo sapien having a child usually results in a Homo aptus.”
This much makes sense. After all, 0+1=1 not 0.
“But wait, I am fourteen and no one has ever mentioned Scorpious Order to me. I just go to Planko High School.”
“Your father meant no harm.” Says Quindolous. “Many people pull away from the order, forsaking their heritage and agreeing to live as the Mundane.”
“What does this have to do with my parents being killed and my uncle?” I ask.
“Your uncle was a student at the institute alongside your father.” Quindolous says. “Carter, your father, became one of the best Masters of the Forgotten Arts that the institute had ever seen. Maxwell, on the other hand, was often mocked for not catching on as quickly. A test that would take your father a mere minute would take your uncle a week to complete.”
Unfortunately, I think I would take after my uncle in that department.
“In his third year, Maxwell found some information on futation, something reserved strictly for graduates of the institution. He yearned desperately to be better than your father at something. He futated with an Alpha-male in a pack of gray wolves.
That explains why he is so hairy and why his nails are like claws.
“Your uncle improved drastically after that. He was stronger, faster, and better able to perform on tests. Although he had broken a rule by using abilities only taught to graduates, his improvement was so great that he was not punished. He was forgiven and even lauded for his resourcefulness. He was even inducted into Avant Institute’s fraternity and even became the youngest man to ever sit on the Council of Elders, our governing body.”
I cannot picture my uncle being a part of the governing body of anything. He was always just a burly unkempt man that I loved because I had to. He was family, but not anymore.
“Your uncle did not understand the gravity of what he had done. He did not fully understand the implications of futation. Most people, who make the permanent decision to futate, do so after they have had children. Once you futate, you are no longer supposed to reproduce. It is a harsh rule, but it makes sense, because the children would be half-breed beasts. Maxwell let his animalistic urges get the best of him. His wife gave birth to sextuplets.”
Sextuplets? Remington, Hilton, Geoffrey, Oxford, Princeton, and Kingston.
“These monsters that your uncle created are an abomination to our way of life. He has been on the run from Scorpious Order since the day they were born. If anyone found out, it would be the end of the Order and the beginning of pandemonium in the world. Chaos would ensue. There are far more people on Earth now than ever before and it is imperative that we keep the forgotten arts a secret.”
Even for a fourteen year old with an active imagination this is a lot to process. I always thought that my uncle, my cousins, and the dogs were strange, but I never dreamed that the answer was so extreme. My head is dizzy from the information swimming around trying to find a place to settle among the battleground of thoughts and emotions in my brain.
“But why would my uncle kill my father?” I ask.
“My dear boy,” Quindolous begins, “Your uncle and his family are banned from Scorpious Order. He can never return to the Avant Institute and those hybrid offspring of his cannot either. His contribution to the Fifth Torch legacy is done. If it weren’t for your father, the Fifth Torch would have died completely. Your uncle, however, was upset because your father never planned to tell you about the institute. The Fifth Torch would have died out all together. The Fifth Torch is the only territory that never had governors. Your uncle wanted your father to allow one of his more human looking sons to attend the institute under your name. A hoax that would serve to heal his bruised ego and keep the Fifth Torch in Scorpious Order. Your father was having no part of that. It angered your uncle that the Fifth Torch was going to be doused by what he saw as fear and weakness in your father. I’m sure that he never meant to kill your father. Wolves are angry and temperamental beasts.”
Quindolous seems to have an answer for everything. Is that because he is telling the truth, or because this is a well-prepared lie? I am naturally cynical of people, but Quindolous seems like a good man. I feel like I can trust him.
“Please my boy,” says Quindolous. “I know that this is all a whimsical load of truth to receive all at once, but it won’t be long before your uncle realizes that you have porterated here and he’ll be looking for you. We must leave at once.”
“Porterated?” I ask. “Is that how I got here?”
“You mean you didn’t do it on purpose?” Quindolous asks.
“Well you are far more talented than even your father was at your age, my boy.”
I trust Quindolous, but there has to be a reason why my father didn’t want me to be at the Avant Institute. I cannot just leave with Quindolous without having more answers.
Downstairs I hear what sounds like a tree, probably the front door, being snapped in half.
I have to make a decision, and now. My dad would want me to do what feels right to me. He would want me to go with what makes me feel comfortable. There is another loud crashing sound from downstairs. All I can see in my mind are wild eyes and bloodied claws. That does not make me feel comfortable. The one thing that I do know is that I don’t want to be here with my Uncle Maxwell.
I walk briskly around the bed toward Quindolous. There is no time to be afraid now.
“How do we get out of here?” I ask.
“The same way that we came in.”
Quindolous grabs my hand and takes a slow step forward. Somehow I know that he means for me to step with him. We take two slow synchronized steps, before I trip. Quindolous’ grip breaks as I fall and I close his eyes preparing to hit the ground. But the ground doesn’t come.
I start to wonder if have I actually fallen, or is this what porterating feels like? I feel myself being swept up into the air. It feels the same as did when I fell from the cliff. My body constricts and stretches as if I am being pulled through a straw. Then just as quickly I feel like I am being pushed back out of the straw and I am falling again. Falling forever. When I finally land, it is not on the soft king bed in my parent’s room. I am on my hands and knees in a coarse, grainy substance.
All I can see is sand for miles and miles. It is dark outside, but lighter than it should be for eight o’clock. I stand to my feet brushing the excess sand away from my clothes. Quindolous is right behind me.
“Happens to everyone the first few times.” He says.
“Where are we?”
“We are here, my boy! Welcome to the Avant Institute of Forgotten Arts!”