Friday, July 4, 2008
“Yeah.” The reply was less than enthusiastic.
“Well, actually, it’s a place you probably know. I’m sure you’ve seen it--the Hancock Tower? I mean, it is the tallest building in this city. Anyways, that’s where we’ll be headed.”
“Why there?” There wasn’t much curiosity in Tom’s voice. He felt too drained by last night’s events to care about much of anything, and wanted most of all to go back to sleep.
“Because that’s where your trainer is, obviously!” Nina spoke like it was the most natural thing in the world that the city’s largest building housed someone who could prepare someone else to save the entire planet. “We’ll have to drive, I suppose, unless you’ve learned to fly as well.” She looked at him briefly, a faint smile on her face. “No, I suppose driving will have to do.”
Without any more talking, Tom finished breakfast and he and Nina, whose strange glow was just barely visible in the brilliance of the morning’s light, got into an inconspicuous-looking car that had apparently appeared out of thin air in Tom’s driveway. Nina drove as Tom stared out the window, neither one making an effort towards conversation. Somehow, their car never hit much traffic, unheard of on a day that hundreds of thousands of people would be rushing off to work. Without incident, the two pulled up to the front of the Hancock building, where miraculously there was one open parking spot across the street from the skyscraper, with a parking meter that had been given enough quarters to pay for a full day’s parking. This was more than Tom could handle.
“Alright,” he said, turning towards Nina. “Maybe the traffic, or the space, or the meter alone could’ve been some great coincidence. But would you be so kind as to share with me just why the hell we’ve had so much damn good luck? It’s creeping me out. Don’t you know the world is supposed to suck?”
Nina’s enigmatic smile flashed in the morning sun’s light. She gestured towards the colossal building towering in front of them, and starting walking towards it, as Tom hurried to catch up. For a moment, Nina seemed like she was going to ignore the question. Tom was about to ask again when she spoke. “Well, I’m not really sure how they arrange it, but the people that sent me are the ones that made all those coincidences happen.”
“And who,” asked Tom, who was rapidly losing his patience with all the mysteries, “just who was that?”
“Again, I’m not really sure,” Nina said. “I get my jobs from someone, who gets their jobs from someone else, and since I’m apparently pretty low in the chain, I really don’t know who’s holding the strings. My co-worker, Leslie, has this hunch that our orders actually come from The Big Guy himself. You know, The Man Upstairs? You’d like Leslie, by the way. Nice gal. Asks a lot of questions, though. Kind of like you.”
Like all of her responses, Nina’s latest only put more questions into Tom’s mind. He thought about asking a few of them, but they had reached the Hancock’s front entrance, and he didn’t feel like drawing any more attention to himself than his still-faintly-glowing companion would already garner. Strangely enough, though, few people seemed to even notice them as they strolled briskly towards the elevator. It wasn’t like they were completely invisible, but to Tom it looked like everyone there felt they were unimportant, or ordinary.
Guarded by their apparent cloak of normality, Tom and Nina boarded the elevator. Nina looked at the dozens of buttons on the wall, and then hit the one labeled 47. The elevator began climbing smoothly. For a few minutes they stood still in the metal box, as it climbed higher and higher. The numbers above the buttons slowly rolled away, and Tom found himself getting nervous. 36, 37, 38… His fists had clenched and unclenched twice when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t worry,” spoke Nina’s reassuring voice from behind him. “Just be yourself.”
A smile found its way on to Tom’s face. “What are you, my mom?” he asked. The numbers hit 47, a ping reverberated through the elevator, and the doors slowly opened.
“Hello, Thomas,” said the gruff, burly, man in his mid 40s smiling at Tom and Nina from in front of the elevator. “The name’s Jack. I’ll be your trainer.”
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Tom sat up in bed and yawned. Hmm, something must be wrong with my eyes, he thought. He could swear there was a glowing blonde girl hovering over his bed. The memories of the night before came flooding back, and suddenly Tom felt like sleeping again. He let himself fall back into his bed and rolled over. Maybe she’d just go away. There were probably a lot of other people that were special or chosen, or whatever. Maybe she could just grab one of them, instead.
Tom squeezed his eyes shut, and remembered a voice from his past. It sounded like his dad, John Russell, oddly enough, but without the heaviness that voice had whenever it spoke today. It was less raspy, too, probably from before he started smoking. Images went with the voice, as well. For a moment Tom felt like everything had gotten larger, but it didn’t take him longer to realize that he was just smaller. After all, he was only five.
“Daddy, why do you have to go?” he heard himself asking, in a voice that hadn’t changed yet.
“Don’t worry, Tommy,” his dad said, in that way that always seemed reassuring to him. “I’ll be back before you know it.”
“But why, dad, why?” He was crying now. “I don’t want you to go! I…I won’t let you go! We’ll hide here, you can stay! Please, daddy, please…”
John Russell knelt, so that his eyes met his son’s. “Someday you’ll learn Tom, that there are things in life that you just have to do. There are times when you have to do things, because it’s your duty. You can never run or hide from your duty, Tom. Someday, you’ll understand why I can’t stay. Goodbye, Tommy. Like I said, I’ll be back before you know it.”
Tom had stopped crying, but he still didn’t understand. “God damn it, but why? Why us? Why me? Why do things have to be this way?” Tom’s words were brimming with a kind of weariness that few live long enough to achieve, and he was only five years old…except he wasn’t.
It was now again, and Nina was speaking. “I honestly don’t know why you were chosen,” she said. “Does it matter? I’m here and you’re there, and getting upset about it won’t do much good, now, will it?”
Tom’s hands became fists. “It matters to me,” he said. His right hand flew into the wall behind his bed, and made contact with a dull thud. He hung his head, and got out of bed slowly. It was going to be a long day.
Monday, June 23, 2008
It probably shouldn’t have surprised him, then, when at almost midnight, someone tapped on his window. It shouldn’t have, but it did. Tom had just gotten into bed, but he jumped out so quickly after the taps that he was standing in his underwear before the covers he’d ripped off his bed had hit the floor. He threw on a pair of jeans and a beat-up T-shirt, and walked slowly towards the window.
The adrenaline his body released had made him shake at first, but Tom soon got hold of himself. As soon as he did, the fear was replaced with anger. Who the hell had the nerve to go banging down his window in the middle of the night? A scowl moved onto his face, and his hands curled into fists. He’d teach this jerk some manners.
Tom had already started choosing the words he’d use to explain the beating when he threw open the window; he didn’t like hurting people he didn’t know for no reason. Once he looked outside, though, he suddenly felt less like fighting, and more like sitting down. Outside his window, a beautiful girl with blonde hair was hovering, bathed in a faint yellowish glow.
“Hello Tom,” she said cordially, “I’m Nina.”
Tom’s legs felt weak again. He almost fell backwards, but he managed to quickly regain his composure. “Alright, lady,” he said angrily. “Just what the hell do you have to tell me that’s so damn important?” He tried his best to even out his voice. “And why did you feel the need to wake me up after midnight?”
“Oh dear,” said Nina, looking disheartened. “You seem angry. Please don’t be angry, it just makes everything harder.”
“Makes what harder?” Tom felt less angry, now, and more curious, but he didn’t let it show.
“Well, let me start by saying I’m sorry about the time. I’m very busy, you see, and this was the only time I had free.”
“Well, in case you didn’t know, I was busy too. Busy sleeping. Funny thing, some weirdos like to do that in the middle of the damn night. By the way, what’s with the glow?”
“Oh, all in due time,” said Nina, a mysterious twinkle lighting up her eyes. “First, I’m sure you’re curious about why I’m here.”
“Not really,” Tom started to say, but Nina continued as if she hadn’t heard.
“Yes, it’s about to be a sad state of affairs for this domain. Oh, silly me, you don’t even know about the domains, do you? Yes, there are actually two, you see, the Earth domain and the Kakarus domain. Earth, I imagine you know pretty well, but Kakarus is probably a bit new to you. That’s the domain of the apparitions and demons. The two exist superimposed one-another, but on different frequencies of universal energy.
“And of course you’ll have to hear about universal energy, too! Universal energy is essentially the energy the universe runs on. It originally caused the Big Bang, spins the galaxies, and collects anywhere life develops—like earth, for example, has a lot of the stuff. Right now scientists are calling it dark matter, and trying to observe it. Really, though, universal energy moves in huge wavelengths, which can have a pretty direct effect on what happens on earth. An energetic high point, and peace and prosperity will inevitably reign. A low point, however, usually brings chaos. It’s the universe’s pulse, with systole and diastole.
“Each of the two domains has its own energy wavelength and frequency, a measure devised by a few wise humans of the distant past, to protect themselves from the often bloodthirsty demons from Kakarus. The ancient human psychics hoped to minimize contact between the worlds, and this worked out nicely. But, every once in a while, the frequencies get close together, and some people can interact with some demons, and vice-versa. Lucky for you guys it doesn’t happen too often. The last time they got really close was just before the Dark Ages, and a few hundred people across the world actually lost their lives to a few malevolent creatures from Kakarus.
“This, Tom, is where you come in.” A look of realization began to appear on Tom’s face. “You see, you were born at the exact moment that earth’s energy level was highest. Because of this, we have reason to believe that you hold within you some kind of great power.”
“No,” Tom said flatly. “Nuh-uh, no way. There’s no way. You can’t just barge in here and make me save the world on some goddamn whim. This can’t be real--”
“You know that’s not true,” Nina interrupted. “Now get some sleep. I’ll be back around eight o’ clock tomorrow, when I’m going to start your training. It’ll be something of a rush job; usually I have two weeks to teach new recruits what you’ll have to learn in a day. Oh well, in the past you’ve worked well under pressure! Night, Tom!”
“Wait!” Tom yelled.
“Yes?” asked Nina, for once looking curious herself.
“Well, it’s just…” Tom had trouble picking the right words.
“Go on,” encouraged Nina.
“You never explained the glow,” Tom said sheepishly.
“Oh that!” Nina said. “Yeah, funny thing, I’m not really sure why I glow like that. I’ve been at it ever since I was a baby. Oh well, you know how life is: Full of mysteries that will never be solved! Good night, Tom!” Nina hovered off into the night, fading as she went until she became nothing.
Tom stood at his window, staring into the dark for five minutes after Nina had faded completely before going to bed again. “Stupid bitch,” he mumbled to himself, the day’s fatigue gradually draining his anger. “Probably just didn’t tell me about the glow to keep me out of some kind of loop. I hate people like that.” Soon, though, exhaustion caught up with him, and Tom slept.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
How long had it been since he’d breathed? Seconds? Minutes? He could feel his lungs screaming, his chest crying out in pain. He had to get to the surface. Up, up, up, closer and closer to where the daylight shimmered, where he could let his lungs do their jobs again. Up, up, up, almost there, but the pain was like the inside of his body on fire. He would burn to death under water. Lightheadedness began to take hold, but he was so close now, so close to the light. His right hand broke the water’s surface. One final thrust from his legs, one last pull from his arms, and he was breathing again, gasping for air…
Tom was lying face down in the alley when he regained consciousness. He didn’t hear any thugs around, so he sat up, and instantly regretted it. His head felt like it weighed a hundred pounds, and throbbed with pain. There was an angry buzzing in his ears that penetrated into his brain and made it impossible to think. He reached back and touched the spot he’d been hit. A huge lump, and just a little blood. Probably a concussion. Standing up slowly, Tom staggered a few steps, and leaned against the wall. How long had he been out? The sun hadn’t moved much, so Tom looked down at his watch. It read 9:15. He’d been unconscious for five minutes, at the most, but it felt like hours or days. The arcade, which had seemed so appealing 10 minutes ago, now only looked like it would make his headache worse. With nothing better to do, he headed towards the school.
Every step he took was agony, but Tom managed to get to school right at the start of Mr. Smith’s third period history class. Mr. Smith was just taking attendance, calling out for ‘O’Reilly’ just as Tom staggered through the door. Mr. Smith glanced at him briefly. “Mr. Russell,” he said, his voice dripping with unfriendly contempt. “So nice of you to grace us with your presence this morning. Please take your seat.” Tom started walking towards the back of the classroom, towards his desk near the back. “Wait just a second, Russell!” Mr. Smith’s voice was piercing, even from the front of the room. “What happened to your school uniform?” Tom looked down at himself. His clothes were torn in a few places, and he could feel that a little blood from his head had dripped onto the back of his collar. “Oh, this is going to cost you, Russell. That’s three demerits for breaking dress code. You’d best watch yourself, or you’ll wind up in detention--not that that would be particularly unusual for you. Anyway, let’s pass back last week’s exams, shall we?”
With that, Mr. Smith reached for a clipboard on his desk. He started at the top, at the letter ‘A.’ “Anderson…A-minus. Beckonsdale…C-plus…” It seemed to drag on and on. Every few names there was a happy exclamation from someone who had done well, or a bitter groan from someone who had not. The list gradually took Smith closer to Tom. “O’Reilly…B. Not bad, O’Reilly, keep it up. Rosada…C. What happened, Rosada, are you slipping? Get your head back into school, or you’ll wind up like Russell, here. Speaking of the devil…” At last it was Tom’s turn. “Russell…No, this can’t be right…B?”
Inwardly, Tom was quite pleased with himself. Usually he slacked off on tests, didn’t think they were all that important. Last week, though, he’d decided to pull together, and study for a change. It took a few hours, but he’d really learned the material; anything was worth it to see the look on Smith’s face.
“Ok Russell,” Mr. Smith interrupted Tom’s train of thought. “Whose paper did you cheat off of? If you agree to be honest with me right now, I promise to make my punishment significantly less harsh. It’s in your own best interests to tell me the truth right now.”
“What?” Tom rose to his feet angrily. “What the fuck are you talking about, old man? Don’t you try to take this away from me…”
“Is that a threat, Russell?” Demanded Smith. “And swearing at the teacher? Another 2 demerits. I’ll see you after school today. And just how did your uniform get so tattered, hmm? Fighting, I imagine. I’ll call that another five demerits, and see you tomorrow afternoon, too.” He looked Tom straight in his eyes, an evil look on his face. “Keep in mind that this punishment is nothing, Russell, and I mean nothing, compared to what I’ll do to you when I can prove that you cheated.” In the ensuing silence, the two, student and teacher, stared defiantly at each other. After what felt like an eternity, the bell rang, and the tension was broken.
The students from each class filtered in the hallway, flooding school with the sounds of a hundred conversations reverberating off the pale brick walls. Somehow, though, above it all, the loudspeaker blared once. “Thomas Russell, please report to the office, Thomas Russell.” Tom was astounded. Had Smith already gotten to the office with his bullshit? Tom thought not. There was no way he could’ve made it to the office that fast.
God, how he needed to get out of this school. Today had started off well enough, but Smith knew how to ruin a good day like no other teacher. Now that old feeling of suffocation that always seemed to hang over his days at school was back, bad as ever. It choked his attention span as he walked towards the office.
When he arrived, the secretary was already waiting for him. “You Thomas Russell?” She asked, in that indifferent way every secretary seems to talk. “You got a note from your mother.”
This made no sense at all. Tom knew exactly where his mother was: At home, trying to hold the house together. Why would she have left him a note at the office, anyway? She had his phone number. “What’s it say?” He asked, reluctantly revealing some curiosity.
“Well, you’ll have to read it yourself to figure that out,” said the secretary, handing him an envelope with his name on it. It wasn’t his mom’s handwriting.
“Thanks,” said Tom. He spoke like a man whose mind was somewhere else; probably because it was. Tom had a bad feeling about this letter, and he didn’t know why. He stuck it in his back pocket, walked away from the office, and headed towards the back stairwell, the place he went when he wanted some privacy. Whatever architect had designed the school had put in a staircase that connected the library with the foreign language wing. It would have actually been somewhat useful, if the school librarian hadn’t put signs all over both ends saying not to use it. All that did was make the stairwell quiet, so Tom could go there and relax when he didn’t feel like going to class. No one ever seemed to know he was there.
It was no wonder, then, that that was where Tom took the letter. A flick of his wrist and some torn paper, and the envelope was on the floor, leaving a note with just a few lines scrawled in pencil in Tom's hands. It said:
How’s school going? I heard you’d actually studied for a test the other day! I hope that worked out well for you. Anyways, this letter really only has one purpose: To warn you that, for you, things are about to get a little strange. You’ve been deemed a ‘special case,’ you see, and will be receiving some special attention. There’s more to the world, more to everything, then what you think you know, Tom. Just letting you know so you don’t freak out when your time comes. Well, you’ll probably freak out anyways, but there it is. We’ll be in touch.
She dotted her ‘i’ with a heart. Tom stared down at the letter in disbelief. This was a joke. A stupid joke, by some stupid kid, trying to piss him off. But the studying…even his parents didn’t know about that. He told himself again: Just a joke. A stupid, stupid joke.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Another uneventful morning. Tom’s dad had already left, still looking for work. His mom had been awake for a while, helping around the house, making breakfast, and doing her best to keep everyone’s spirits up.
Thirty minutes after school started, Tom left his house, using one hand to sling his backpack over his shoulder and his other to hold onto his now half-eaten bagel. He toyed briefly with the idea of hurrying his pace, but decided against it. He was going to be late anyway, who would care whether he missed the bell by forty minutes or by an hour? In fact, he figured he had another hour or two before the school marked him as absent for the day. Best of all, it was a Tuesday. The arcade was already open. Tom chuckled quietly to himself, and headed through an alley, towards the big green sign that read “Game Corner.” That was when he heard the footsteps.
They weren’t particularly loud, like someone was stomping; it was just hard to walk with any kind of stealth or grace in the clunky dress shoes that came recommended with Tom’s school’s uniform. The steps approached slowly, without haste, but there was a definite purpose in the way they walked. Tom turned around slowly.
“What the hell are you laughing at, asshole?” demanded the newcomer. He had dark hair and a sadistic look in his gray, beady eyes.
“Just now?” asked Tom, a sly smile crossing his face. “Actually, Brad, I was just remembering the look on your face, when my foot introduced it to the sidewalk the other day. I hope you two are getting along, by the way. How’s everything working out?”
An enraged “You’re gonna pay for that, you little bitch!” was the response, but Tom didn’t hear it.
Every one of his nerves was concentrated on one of Brad’s hands. His right had found its way into his pants pocket, and balled itself into a fist. As Brad lunged forward, his arm tensed up. Tom took one step with his left foot, and kicked Brad’s pocketed hand as hard as he could with his right. He made solid contact, and something made of metal glinted in the sun’s early light as it arced away from the confrontation.
As Brad’s look of insane anger was replaced by one of disbelief, Tom spoke. “Damn, a knife? You jerks must really be getting desperate, huh?” Tom took another step, this time with his right foot, and punched his opponent as hard as he knew how, a stiff right hook to the jaw. Brad went down, and didn’t look like he was getting back up.
Tom laughed out loud. “Ha! Sonuvabitch didn’t know what hit him!” Cocky from his win, he didn’t even notice the two interlopers that had appeared behind him. By the time he heard the baseball bat whooshing through the air, it was already too late. Damn…looks like I’m gonna miss the arcade… was his last thought before the bat cracked into his skull.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Thomas ran like hell. He could feel them coming, bearing down on him, getting closer and closer. They stretched out and reached him, their shadowy figures wrapping around his arms and legs, until he could run no more. He thrashed wildly, desperately, but it was to no avail.
Suddenly, Tom relaxed. Was he already too exhausted from the chase to defend himself? The shadow creatures could sense the coming kill, they could practically taste the boy’s flesh as they tore it from his bones. The foremost lunged, just as Tom’s relaxed state left him curled him into the fetal position.
All at once, Tom tensed up, and his eyelids flew open. His normally piercing, dark brown eyes were replaced by two glowing, icy-blue points of light. His pupils were gone; it was if his eyes were radiating pure electricity. The light shone on the lunging shadow creature, and it hesitated for just an instant. In that instant, however, Thomas’s whole body began to glow. A sphere of blinding light surrounded him, and began pushing out. Faster and faster it expanded, engulfing the monsters and tearing them apart with its brilliance as they screeched in agony. Now Tom was screaming, yelling at the top of his lungs. Light and sound all came together, overwhelming Tom’s brain, until all he could hear was the rhythmic screaming of the shadow creatures… except…they didn’t sound like screams…more like a buzz. And why were they so precise? Tom concentrated, tried to focus on the sound…