“Nicholas! Hey, Nicholas!” Nicholas stopped and turned toward the yelling. He saw his bestie, Emily, running toward him. Her graduation gown was flapping wildly around her legs, and she was waving her cap in the air, trying to get his attention. He rolled his eyes, but a genuine smile creased his face for the first time that morning. Nicholas tapped his foot in mock annoyance and waited for her.
She caught up to him, barely breathing heavy. “Hey, you. Why didn’t you wait for me in the parking lot like we planned?”
“My mom dropped me off out front. I was just about to text you.”
“Did you write the speech?”
Nicholas held up a fistful of notecards. “Not that anyone will listen, but, yeah, I wrote it.”
“Some of them might listen. The parents and teachers will probably listen.”
“But will any of them care? Will anything change? I doubt it.”
The third member of their trio walked up. “You ready for this, Nicholas?”
Yes, Griff, as ready as I’ll ever be. What I’m actually prepared for is putting this whole high school chapter of my life behind me.”
“I feel ya there, bro.” Griffin put his fist out, ready for a bump.
Nicholas smirked, and fist-bumped his friend, “We joke, but I’m serious, Griff. There are four hundred and thirty-seven kids in our class, and you and Emily are the only two who really know me. The real me. There are a few others who are friendly, and there’s a few more who wish they were even friendlier,” another eye roll, “but two out of four hundred and thirty-seven who I consider true friends. That’s pretty sad when you think about it.”
Emily wrapped her arms around Nicholas from behind and rested her head on his shoulder. “The two of you are worth more than the rest of them put together. Nicholas, you’re obviously the smartest of us, Mister valedictorian, but you’re also the sweetest and kindest boy in school. That alone I would have figured out that you’re gay even if you hadn’t told me when we were like ten!” Emily laughed, and the wind blew her long, curly blonde hair into Nicholas’ face.
Nicholas brushed away Emily’s hair, “If I were straight, I’d marry you.” He smirked. “But that’s my point. That’s why they hate me. I mean, hell, I’m a jock. I’m the co=captain of the track team. I’m the president of the senior class, and now the valedictorian. But because I’m gay, they hate me. Not just the students either. They can say stuff right in front of the teachers, and nothing happens, because they hate me too. I need to get out of this town!”
Griffin stepped in and wrapped his arms around his two best friends. “Group hug!”
Nicholas squirmed, “You’re squishing me, you big jerk.”
“Oh, stop. You love me.”
“I do. I love both of you so much, but I gotta get out of this town, or I’m gonna go crazy.”
Griffin pulled back from the hug. “Where would you go? You didn’t even apply to any colleges yet, did you?’
“No. I need time away from school. I’ve been selling the birdhouses and other yard art that I’ve been making. You wouldn’t believe how many orders I have gotten just for trellises! I’m thinking of working in my shop through the summer and taking off in the fall when I’ve saved up more money.”
“Too bad that your mom sold you dad’s RV. That would have been sweet to travel in.”
“I would love to have that. Mom didn’t even talk about selling it, just one day it was gone from the driveway. Anyway, it’s time. Let’s go get in line and get this over with.”
The line to receive your diploma wound its way through the school and out onto the big stage that they had erected in the middle of the football field. Metal folding chairs were set up in front of the stage for the students and faculty. The parents and other guests were seated in the bleachers. Nicholas, having the last name of Daniels, was called well before either Griffin Masters or Emily Sullivan. He wouldn’t have had the chance to sit with them anyway. He was stuck sitting on the stage, waiting to give his speech. His anxiety was sky high, and he tapped his foot and reread his notes while he waited.
The principal, finally, called Aaron Zurakowski to the stage to receive his diploma then announced that it was time for the Valedictorian to give his speech. He turned and looked at Nicholas. “Nicholas Daniels, the stage is yours.”
Nicholas nervously walked to the microphone. “Good afternoon, classmates, teachers, parents, and friends. I am honored to be able to give this speech today. When I looked up advice on how to write a valedictorian speech, what I found was that most people start off with a famous quote. So, I looked up quotes about high school. Here’s one I picked for all of you. It is a quote from professional football player JJ Watt, “What I remember most about high school are the memories I created with my friends.”
Someone from the crowd of students yelled, “What friends? Loser!”
The principal made a half-hearted gesture for silence but did not even stand from his seat.
Another voice yelled, “What’s your name again? Do you even go to school here?”
Nicholas looked around for an adult, any adult, to step in and take charge. When none did, he started to talk again. “I..” He had to step away to dodge an egg which splattered on the stage right at his feet. Nicholas saw his mother making her way to the front of the crowd. He knew if he was going to do anything on his own, the time was now. “That quote does mean a lot to me. I made a lot of memories here with my friends. All two of them. Griff and Emily are the best friends that I could ever ask for. I did try to make friends with the rest of you. I’m class president, I’m co-captain of the track team. I don’t know what else you expected of me.”
More insults were yelled. More eggs were thrown. And yet neither the principal nor any teacher moved to stop it. Nicholas’ mother was now on the stage and took the microphone. She glared at the students and then focused her attention on the other parents. “Mary Walker, I know you can recognize your own son’s voice while he’s yelling those nasty things at my boy.”
“Your boy is a sinner! He’s going to Hell!”
“Sin? Is that what you and Patrick Mason have been committing every day after your husband leaves for work? Oh no. I’m sorry. By the look on his face, your husband didn’t know.” Jenn Daniels turned her attention on someone else. “I think Mary is too busy to talk. How about you, Nancy Peterson? Your boy was throwing eggs, and you were sitting there laughing. Do you want to talk about sin?”
“Jenn, you’ve made your point. We’re sorry. Take Nick and go home.”
“See what I mean. You don’t even know that Nicholas hates being called Nick. Our sons have gone to the same school since kindergarten, yet you laugh while he and others make a mockery of what should be his shining high school moment.”
“Mom, it’s ok. Let’s go home.”
“No, Nicholas, I’m not done with these hypocrites yet.”
“Nicholas has the right idea. Go home, Jenn.”
She spun back towards Nancy Peterson. “Afraid of all your friends finding out your sins, Nancy. Don’t worry. I’m not that petty. Just make sure none of these animals,” She motioned towards the students, “bully my son ever again. I know this whole town’s secrets.” Jenn threw the microphone at the principal and stormed off the stage, closely followed by Nicholas, Emily, and Griffin.
Out in the parking lot, Nicholas was about to get in his mom’s car, but Emily stopped him. “Ride with me, Nicholas.”
Nicholas shrugged, “Mom, is it okay if I get a ride from Emily?”
“Sure, sweetie, just be home soon. I have graduation gifts for all three of you.”
Griffin gave Jenn a huge hug, “Aw, Momma D, you didn’t have to do that!”
“I may as well. You’re at my house more than you’re at your own.”
Griff blushed and released the hug. “You’re a better cook than my mom.”
Jenn patted his arm. “I’m sure that’s all it is.” She smiled at Nicholas and then turned and got in her car. “I’ll see you all at my house in twenty minutes.”
“Come on, boys. I need to stop at my house and change before we go to Nicholas’ anyway.” The three friends piled into Emily’s car and took off, leaving their high school behind forever. They got to Emily’s house, and she ran upstairs to change, leaving Griff and Nicholas waiting for her in the living room.
“Do you think she knows?” Griff asked his best friend.
“Do I think who knows what?”
“Your mom. Us. Do you think she knows that we’ve messed around? The way she talked just before we left. I don’t know. Did you tell her?”
“There’s nothing to tell, Griff. It’s not like we’re boyfriends. I mean it’s loads of fun,” he raised his eyebrows and winked, “but no, I didn’t tell my mom, because there’s really nothing to tell. I mean, hell, she might know. She seems to know everything, but I never said a word.”
“I guess you’re right. Nothing to tell,” Griffin looked away to hide his disappointment. “I hope she doesn’t know. It would be weird.”
Emily practically bounced down the stairs. “If you two drama queens are done moaning let’s go.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice.” Griffin nearly ran for the door.
“What’s with him?”
“Nothing, Em. Let’s go.”
Emily slowed down as they turned the corner onto Nicholas’ street. Nicholas nearly screeched as he leaned forward from the backseat. “Is that? No. It can’t be, can it? Griff, is that what I think it is?”
Griffin’s eyes grew wide. “Wow. Nicholas, I think it is. It looks just like it anyway. Doesn’t it, Emily?” They both turned to look at Emily and saw her smile nearly splitting her face in two.
Nicholas lightly slapped Emily’s shoulder. “Whatever is going on, you already knew!” He looked back at Griffin. “You both knew! Stop the car and let me out!” Nicholas nearly leaped out of the car and ran to the driveway of his house and stared in awe. He saw the familiar bumper stickers and peered in the windows and saw mostly the same furniture that he remembered. It was his dad’s RV. Through the tears in his own eyes, he turned and saw his mother standing beside him, tears streaming down her face.
“Congratulations, son. You’ve made me so proud. I love you.” She dropped the keys into the palm of his hand.
“You’re giving this to me? It’s mine. To keep?”
“Yes, Nicholas. Your father wanted you to have it. I also went to the bank and withdrew the money he left.”
“Mom? What’s going on? You told me that I couldn’t have that money until I was twenty-one.”
Jenn held her only son’s face in her hands and looked into his eyes. “I know how much you hate living in this town. I know you planned on leaving anyway. I will miss you terribly, but I want you to be happy. Leave with my blessing.” Her tears started flowing again.
Nicholas hugged his mother tight. “Thank you so much! I love you, mom. I won’t be leaving you; I’ll be leaving this stupid, bigoted town. I’ll call you all the time.” He turned to look at his two best friends. “I’ll miss you guys, too! I can’t believe that I’ll be leaving before you now. I thought I’d leave right after you both left for college!”
Griff clapped Nicholas on the back. “I hate to tell you, but you won’t be getting rid of me that easily. You’re giving me a lift to college. I already cleared it with my parents. I’m already packed and ready to go.”
Emily pulled the two boys in for a hug. “I can’t go. Plus, I’m heading in the opposite direction than Griff. Clemson for me. You boys have fun but stay out of trouble!”
Nicholas could still hardly believe what had just happened. “I can’t believe I’m leaving.” He stared at Griffin. “I can’t believe you’re coming with me. This is gonna be so much fun! I gotta go pack!”
“I’ll meet you back here first thing in the morning. Seven? Lots of coffee?”
“Seven is perfect! I’ll see you in the morning!” Nicholas gave Emily another hug. “I’m going to miss you so much, Em. Have a great time at Clemson!” He gave his mother another hug and then ran into the house to pack his clothes and prepare for the next chapter in his life. Nicholas couldn’t even imagine what sorts of adventures lay ahead for him and Griffin as they would soon head out on their very own RV road trip.
The door shuddered within its frame just seconds before shattering into thousands of tiny splinters. The woman inside the room barely had time to cover her face before being showered with the demolished remains of her front door. An overwhelming scent of decay hit her, and she looked up as a cloaked and hooded figure stepped inside the room. The shadow creature, known as a Varekejo spoke with a low gravelly voice “Kylia Ztalpo, bow before her Majesty, Queen of the Enkali, Andharia!”
Kylia could hardly believe what she heard, but she considered the red glowing eyes of the Varekejo and complied without question. She fell to her knees and bowed her head towards what remained of the door to her hut. Queen Andharia stepped through the doorway and glared down at the woman before her with a look of pure contempt.
“Human woman, do you know why I have come to you?” asked Andharia.
Shaking with awe and fear, Kylia spoke, her voice faltering and cracking. “My Queen, I know not why you have come to my humble home.”
Andharia shook her head in disgust. “I am not surprised that he is as deceitful with you as he always is with me. The man you have lain with these last three nights is my husband, your King, Bahaar.”
“No! I did not know! He did not tell me he was the king! Please do not kill me, your Majesty!” Kylia’s eyes were wide with terror and her hands were raised in front of her face as if to ward off an attack.
“Child, I will not harm you.” Andharia placed her hand on Kylia’s stomach. “His seed grows within your belly. Even I dare not kill a child of Bahaar, but this act cannot go unpunished.”
Kylia felt her entire body tingle as the ancient magic flowed from Andharia and into Kylia’s abdomen. Kylia gasped, ” What… what are you doing to me?”
Andharia stood over Kylia and spoke. “Your child will be born healthy and live the long full life of a child of the Enkali, however he will be cursed with a deep hatred for all those around him. The blackness of his soul will be reflected in his outward appearance.” With that said, Andharia looked once more at Kylia, then turned and left the hut.
Kylia huddled into the corner of the room and cried for the dismal fate of her unborn child. She would not see Andharia or Bahaar again until the day she gave birth.
Screams filled the air, echoing throughout the village. Word reached the Enkali that Kylia was in labor. Bahaar, Andharia, and two of the Varekejo gathered just outside of her hut, awaiting the birth. As the sun passed the midpoint of the sky, the screams inside of the hut reached a crescendo and then stopped. A midwife, looking extremely pale and fearful, staggered out of the hut carrying a baby wrapped tightly in a bundle of cloth. She bowed her head and extended the baby towards Bahaar.
Bahaar looked at the baby and recoiled in disgust. “What is this monstrosity? Where is my child? Take this beast away and give me my child, human!” The king was enraged and glaring at the midwife.
Andharia spoke from behind Bahaar. “That is your son, husband. I warned you that your infidelities would have dire consequences. Your child is as grotesque as the act which created him.” Andharia smiled even as Bahaar grew even angrier.
“You will pay dearly for this, wife.” Bahaar scowled as he turned away from Andharia. He motioned for the two Varekejo to come closer to him and he gave each a command. The first one he sent to the northern mountains to summon Colossus, the ancient dragon. To the other Varekejo he said, “Go into that hut and dispose of those two humans. I cannot kill my own son, but none can know that this deformed beast is of my blood.”
The first Varekejo mounted his horse and rode off to the north as the second entered Kylia’s hut. Moments later he returned to King Bahaar. “Master, the humans fled. Their tracks lead to the eastern forests. Shall I follow?”
“Go. Track them down. Do not return to me until both are dead.” said Bahaar. The Varekejo turned and left, following the tracks into the forest.
Colossus could smell the stench of the Varekejo before he saw him. He despised the Varekejo. Colossus thought about older times while the unnatural creature made his way up to the dragon’s den. Colossus was among the last of the dragons who remembered when the Varekejo and Enkali came to this land. He longed for the old days when it was just the dragons, the dreigiau, and the elves. The elves took heavy losses in the war between the Varekejo and Enkali. Before the war was over, the elves decided that enough was enough and had left Talamh Arsa, never to return. Sometimes Colossus wished he left with them. He tried and failed to convince the other dragons to leave Talamh Arsa with the elves. The other dragons argued that they could not leave their smaller dragon cousins, the dreigiau, alone in a land now filled with powerful magical races at war with each other. Colossus thought that the dreigiau were more than capable of defending themselves, but he stayed with his kin. Dreigiau are much smaller than dragons but are fierce fighters. Dreigiau, about twenty feet in height at the shoulder, have small legs in comparison to their body size which gave them a low center of gravity and make them nearly impossible to beat on the ground. The dragons, on the other hand, are fifty feet at the shoulder with longer legs and large heavy wings. The air belongs to the dragons. Colossus’s thoughts were then interrupted as the Varekejo reached his den and called out to him.
Colossus wrinkled his nose in distaste as all he could smell was the foul odor of the dark magic eating through the skin of the Varekejo from the inside out. Colossus only tolerated the creature because he knew Bahaar sent it to him. Colossus stepped into the light at the entrance to his den and spoke. “What is it that the king asks of me this time, foul creature?”
After listening to what the Varekejo had to say, Colossus stepped past him and with a thrust of his heavily muscled legs and a flap of his enormous green wings, Colossus was airborne and flying quickly to the south to where Bahaar waited. Minutes later, Colossus landed on the outskirts of the human village. He bowed his powerful neck low to the ground. “Your Majesty, you called for me? How may I be of service?”
Bahaar told Colossus about the birth of his son and of the effects of Andharia’s curse upon the boy. “Colossus, my old friend, I cannot kill my own son, but I cannot have it known that this wretched beast is of my royal blood. Take him far away from here but watch over him. If he does the evil deeds that the curse suggests that he may, do what you judge appropriate. I would not ask this of you if I did not feel that it was of the utmost importance.”
Colossus bowed his head again. “It shall be done, my King. I will take the beast past the eastern desert and will find a suitable place for him in a new land. I will watch for any signs of evil that he may cause.” Colossus carefully took the baby in one giant claw and flew back towards his den.
The Varekejo called Ihlvo, tracked the two human females deep into the forest. Soon after entering the forest, he did not even have to bother looking for footprints. The smell of blood overwhelmed his senses. He could have tracked it from miles away. Ihlvo heard screams off in the distance, in the same direction as the blood smell, and quickened his pace. Ihlvo entered the clearing unnoticed and watched the human called Kylia give birth to another baby. He saw that this baby was not malformed like the other one, but he could sense the dark magic of the curse flowing through the baby. Ihlvo, being a creature of dark magic himself, could sense what happened to Andharia’s curse. The curse was directed at a single child. Because the woman had given birth to two, the curse split between the twins. The first child had the effects of the curse flowing on the outside of his body, therefore this one must have the dark magic inside of him. Ihlvo smiled to himself as many thoughts went through his mind. His centuries long search for a way to free himself and his brethren from their enslavement at the hands of the Enkali may be at an end. Maybe, just maybe, Bahaar’s own child could turn out to be the key to their freedom. Still unnoticed by the two humans, Ihlvo stalked up behind them, snapping the neck of the midwife before either human was even aware of his presence.
Kylia heard a cracking sound and then a loud thump. She glanced up from looking at her baby and saw the midwife sprawled at her feet with her neck bent at an unusual angle. Standing over the body was a Varekejo. Kylia screamed in fear, clutching the baby closer to her chest.
Ihlvo stepped over the fallen body of the midwife and stood directly over Kylia. “Give the child to me, human, and he will not only live, he will accomplish great things. Bahaar banished your other child from the kingdom, but I will hide this one from him. Bahaar will never know he exists.”
Kylia looked at Ihlvo in confusion. “Why would you want to help my baby? What would you get out of this? Have you not come here at Bahaar’s orders to kill me?”
“Yes. I have been ordered to kill you. However, Bahaar knows nothing of your second child. Therefore, I was not given any orders at all concerning him. I sense great potential in him. Give him to me if you want him to survive.” Ihlvo reached towards Kylia.
Kylia shuddered as the Varekejo reached for her. “I know I have no other choice. Take him. His name is Bartholomew. I know I will die but I want my sons to live. If it is not too late, please hide his brother as well. Name him Zachariah. I saw what he looked like before he was taken away from me, but I do not care. I love both my sons and want them to live.”
“The dragon, Colossus, has taken Zachariah away already. There is nothing I can
do for him even if I wanted to. He will not be killed but he will be taken across
the eastern desert, far from this kingdom.” Ihlvo reached down and took
Bartholomew from Kylia’s grasp. With the baby cradled in one arm, he drew his
sword with the other and plunged it deep into Kylia’s chest.
Ihlvo withdrew the sword and slid it back into its scabbard. Holding the baby close, he disappeared into the forest.
Charlie’s hand pulled away from Leo as fast as if his skin was on fire. He spun around and said, “Mom! You’re back! This is Leo. Another boy beat him up down on the beach. I brought him here to see if we could help him. You weren’t here, so I was doing the best I could to help on my own.” Charlie was talking so fast it was almost as if he didn’t want to give his mother a chance to respond.
“He’ll be lucky if you didn’t do more harm than good.” Mrs. Davis shook her head. “Move aside, boy. Let me look.” She sat on the ottoman and began examining Leo’s injuries. She looked back at her son. “Well, don’t just stand there. Go get me two ice packs and my nursing bag.”
Mrs. Davis looked intently at Leo. “Leo, is it?”
“Yes, ma’am. Sorry for the intrusion. If you hand me my shirt, I can leave if you’d like. I am feeling better already. I don’t need the hospital. I’m sure of it and don’t bother calling my parents. They’re not home anyway.” Leo blushed and looked down under the intense gaze of the older woman.
“Nonsense. And my name is Helen, not ma’am. But I would like you to tell me why you do not want proper medical attention. And why you don’t want me to call your parents. Are you in trouble, son?” Helen stared at Leo with a look of concern.
“I told you. My parents are at work. And I don’t need a doctor. I’m ok.” Leo said.
Helen waved her hand at Leo. “I know when a teenage boy is lying to me. I have two of my own, and countless others have come through my emergency rooms. If you don’t want to tell me, just say so. Don’t lie to me.” Helen said, glaring up at Leo.
Leo was about to tell Mrs. Davis about the fight when Charlie came rushing back into the room. He stepped in between Leo and his mother and handed the nursing bag to his mom and set the two ice packs on the couch next to Leo. With his mom’s attention distracted, looking for her supplies, Charlie caught Leo’s eye. With a pleading look, almost on the verge of tears, he mouthed the words, “Please don’t tell her that you’re gay!”
Leo grimaced but nodded. Charlie sighed with relief. Mrs. Davis looked up from the nursing bag. “So, Leo, did you want to tell me what happened?”
“Yeah, um well, it was just a guy from school. We’ve been in fights before, and my dad would be mad if I got in another fight. Please don’t tell him.” Leo did his best to look as sad and pathetic as possible, so Reese’s mother would take pity on him. It worked.
“Ok. I won’t call your parents, but your dad is right. You shouldn’t be getting into fights.” While they were talking, Mrs. Davis wrapped Leo’s ankle in an ace bandage, applied the cream to his ribs and back, and had Leo hold an icepack over his eye. “How are you going to explain your injuries to your parents without telling them you were in a fight?” asked Mrs. Davis.
“I’ll come up with something before I get home. Thank you for not telling my parents, Mrs. Davis.” Leo reached over and grabbed his t-shirt from the couch.
“Here, you can keep this tube of ointment. It will help with the bruising on your ribs and back. You can put some on your face if that turns black and blue as well.” She handed Leo a tube of ointment, a couple of pills, and a glass of water. “Some Tylenol for the pain. Do you have some at home?”
“I’m sure we do. Thanks again. For everything.” Leo slipped his shirt back over his head, wincing with pain. He gritted his teeth and stood up. Seemingly out of nowhere, Charlie appeared by his side. Leo felt Charlie’s hand on the small of his back, supporting him as he attempted to put weight on his sprained ankle.
“You ok to walk?” Charlie asked him.
“Yeah, I’m feeling a bit better. I’ll have a bit of a limp for a few days, but I’m ok. Thanks for everything. I need to head for home now.” Leo starting walking towards the door.
Charlie followed Leo then he turned back towards his mother. “Mum, is it ok if I walk Leo back to his house. Just to make sure that he can walk and that that boy doesn’t come after him again?” Charlie looked uncertainly at his mum.
Helen thought for a moment and then said, “Yes. Walk him home, but then come right back. If that boy is a problem again, call the police this time no matter what Leo wants. Understand?”
“Yes, mum. Got it. Thanks!” Charlie ran out the door to meet back up with Leo.
The two boys started back down towards the beach. When they were away from the cabin, Charlie looked over at Leo. “Hey, Leo. I’m sorry I had you lie to my mum. She’s old school about the whole gay thing, and I didn’t want there to be a problem, at least until she finished helping you. I hope you’re not mad at me for asking you to lie.”
Leo leaned against Charlie’s shoulder for support as they walked. “No. I’m not mad at all. I understand. Most of the time, I wish I hadn’t told my dad about me either. My life would be a lot easier if he didn’t know. Overall, I’m glad I told him. It’s easier not having to lie even though I have to deal with a lot of shit sometimes. I understand, Charlie. I’m not even mad a little.” Leo looked over at Charlie and smiled. Charlie smiled back, and the two boys continued walking down the beach towards Leo’s house.
Charlie wasn’t sure how much further they were going to have to walk when Leo motioned for him to turn towards the right. They walked past a couple of picnic tables and across a grassy area to a fence at the edge of the beach. “This is it. I live right over there.” Leo pointed at a house across the street. “Will I ever see you again?” Leo asked, looking directly into Charlie’s eyes.
“I sure hope so. We’ve rented that cabin until the end of the week. What are you doing tomorrow?” Charlie replied with a grin. “I’d love to hang out sometime when I’m not saving you from a maniac.”
“School starts tomorrow. I could meet up with you after if you want.”
“What year of school are you in?”
“I start my senior year of high school tomorrow. You said that you just graduated, right?”
“Yep! I’m so glad that I’m able to finally focus on what I want to do rather than what the school wants me to do! I would have guessed you for a college boy, too. You look about the same age as me. I’ll be nineteen next month.”
“I’ll be eighteen in two weeks, so not that far behind you. Anyway, I need to get home before my brother sends out a search party. Should I look for you after school tomorrow?”
“I’m not sure what my mom has planned. Give me your number, and I’ll text you when I know our plans,” Charlie said.
Leo took Charlie’s phone and put in his contact information. When he handed it back, he leaned in and gave a very surprised Charlie a quick kiss on the cheek. Leo grinned at a speechless Charlie, then turned and jumped the fence and walked home without looking back.
The kiss shocked Charlie. Leo kissed him! It was just a kiss on the cheek, but still, it meant that he probably liked him! Leo flirted the whole time, but the kiss was still a surprise. Charlie’s grin nearly split his face in two as he turned and retraced his steps back to the cabin by the lighthouse.
Leo made his way across the street and into his house, where he found his brother Kam sitting at the kitchen table, staring at the door. As soon as Leo was in the house, Kam was on his feet, asking his brother question after question. “What took you so long? Are you alright? Hey, what happened to your face?”
“Kam! Stop with the questions, let’s go to my room, and we can talk there.” Leo said as he led his brother up the stairs and into his bedroom. Leo sat at his desk and motioned for Kam to sit on the bed. “I’ll tell you everything that happened, but you have to promise not to tell anyone, Kam. Not anyone! Understand?”
“Yeah. Of course. Like always. We always keep each other’s secrets and watch each other’s backs. We’re brothers.” Kam held his fist out to his brother. Leo complied, and they bumped fists and grinned silly grins.
“Ok. Well, here it goes.” Leo proceeded to tell Kam about everything that happened from the time they split up until Leo was back in the house. Kam listened without once interrupting. When Leo finished, Kam gave out a low whistle.
“Wow, bro. You had a busy morning after I left.” Kam said.
“Yeah, I know, right! Scary. Awful. Amazing. Confusing. I don’t know what to feel right now!” Leo ran his fingers through his hair and slumped back into his chair.
Kam scowled, then looked at his brother. “First, we have to worry about dad and what he’s going to say about your bruises. If you tell him that it was about Jasper, he’ll flip out.”
“Hmm. Hey! I’ll tell him I went for a swim after our run and a surfboard clipped me. I’d rather he thought that I was an idiot and wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings than deal with him going off about Jazz again.”
“That might work for dad, but Jasper and Matt will have to be dealt with eventually. Now, what about this boy, Charlie? Do you think you’ll see him again? Should you even bother? You said he’s a tourist just here until the end of the week.” Kam stared intently at his brother, waiting for answers.
“He’s super-hot! That hair and those eyes. Mm-hm. I sure hope I see him again. I gave him my number and asked him to text me tomorrow when he knows what his plans are. Yes, I know he’s a tourist, but he makes me smile. I haven’t smiled because of a boy in a long time, Kam.” Leo said with a grin. “Plus, there’s just something about him. I can’t even explain it. The connection was immediate and strong. Maybe it was him saving me from Matt, but I looked up into those dark brown eyes, and my heart skipped a beat. In that one moment, I felt more for him than I ever felt in eight months with Jazz. So, yes. Yes, I plan to see him again. I hope he feels the same way! Who knows what can happen in a week? Maybe he’ll stay!” Leo spun the chair around and was leaning against the back of the chair, looking at his brother.
“You just met him, and he’s a tourist. Enjoy the week, but be careful. I’ll reheat breakfast. Mom, dad, and Allison all went to the mall for last-minute school shopping. Mom said she’d take you and me later today.” Kam disappeared down the hall, and Leo gathered some clean clothes and headed towards the bathroom to shower.
After Leo’s shower, he took a good long look at himself in the mirror. The bruises looked terrible, but he could move without too much pain. Nothing felt broken, Mrs. Davis was probably right about that. He had Charlie to thank. Matt probably would have done even more damage if Charlie hadn’t been there to stop him. Leo quickly shook thoughts of Charlie out of his head before he became distracted, and his food got cold a second time. He finished in the bathroom and went downstairs to join his brother for breakfast.
After breakfast, the two boys went into the living room and played some Xbox. After killing each other a couple dozen times in Call of Duty, they turned the game off. Leo started channel surfing, and Kam took out his phone and started texting. Soon, their family returned home from the mall, and Leo and Kam left with their mom. Once at the mall, their mom gave Kam explicit instructions on what she expected him to buy but just handed Leo some money. They each went their separate ways to find what they needed.
Leo nearly finished his shopping, thoughts of the upcoming school year clouding his mind. Thoughts of dealing with Jasper, thoughts of Charlie, all these thoughts ran through his head. His vision started spinning, and he felt himself begin to sweat. He leaned heavily onto the checkout counter.
“Sir? Are you ok? Sir?” The cashier spoke to Leo and grabbed his arm as she saw him start to lean forward. To Leo, the entire store began to spin and go dark. He lost his grip on the counter and fell to the floor. He felt hands grab him, but the voices around him sounded far away, and everything was dark.
Leo felt something cold and damp against his forehead, and he faintly heard someone saying his name and talking to him. He opened his eyes, and things weren’t so dark, and the spinning had slowed down. He closed his eyes again, leaned back against the counter, and listened to the voice that was talking to him. The voice sounded familiar. Leo opened his eyes again. The spinning stopped. He blinked. The first things he saw were the EMT uniform and the stretcher. Leo groaned. He did not want to end up at the hospital. Leo wasn’t ready to tell his mom that the dizzy spells were back. He looked up, and when he saw the face of the EMT, he smiled. It was Kyle, the same EMT who had saved his life six years ago.
“Hey, Kyle. Fancy meeting you here. I sure hope you’re not planning on putting me on that thing.” Leo pointed at the stretcher.
“Hi, Leo. It has been a long time. Which is good, considering my line of work.” Kyle reached over and removed the cold rag from Leo’s forehead. “How are you feeling? What happened?”
“Kyle, can we move over to the bench out of the store?” Leo started to push himself up off the floor.
Kyle helped Leo to his feet and held onto his arm as they paid for Leo’s purchases and then walked out to the bench and sat down. “So, what happened, Leo? The cashier told me that it looked like you got dizzy and passed out.”
Leo looked down, then looked back at Kyle. “I think it was just a bad anxiety attack. There’s been a lot on my mind lately. But I’ll be candid with you, Kyle. I’ve had a few dizzy spells and headaches. At least a couple a week. I’m a little worried.”
“Do you want me to take you to the hospital right now, Leo? With your history, it’s better to be safe than sorry. It might just be anxiety, but it might be something more.” As he talked, Kyle took Leo’s blood pressure and pulse readings. “All your vitals look good, but I am more than happy to load you into the ambulance and take you to the hospital. Is your mom here in the mall?”
“Yeah. Mom and Kam are both here. I appreciate you looking after me again, Kyle, but I don’t want to go to the hospital. If the dizzy spells continue, I promise to tell mom. I promise. I really do think it’s just the anxiety.” Leo told Kyle all that had been going on in his life. The breakup with Jasper, the fight with Matt, meeting Charlie, worries about school, everything.
“Wow. That is a lot. It could be the anxiety, but I’ll hold you to that promise about telling your mom if you get dizzy again. You know better than anyone how important this is. You can’t mess around when it comes to brain injuries. Don’t make me sic Doc Danny on you! Anyway, if you’re sure you don’t want to go to the hospital, I have to get going.” Kyle stood up and rested a hand on Leo’s shoulder. “You sure you’re ok, Leo?”
“Yeah. I’m good now, Kyle. Thanks a lot. I’m glad it was you that came for me again. Spilling my guts and telling you all that stuff probably helped more than anything else. I’m feeling much better.” Leo stood and gathered up his shopping bags as Kyle said one last goodbye, tossed his medical bag onto the stretcher, and left.
Leo glanced at his watch. “Damn!” He hurried off toward the mall food court, already fifteen minutes past the time his mom had said for him to be there.
After they got home from the mall, the boys put their things away and then went out to the backyard to help their dad set-up for the barbecue. “What happened to you?” Leo’s dad asked him.
“I was swimming this morning after my run. I guess I drifted out too far without realizing it, and the next thing I knew, a surfboard crashed right into me. It hit my face and my ribs. I’m pretty sore, but I’m ok, dad.” Leo said, hoping his father would believe the story.
“Hmph! Be more careful out there. You could have hurt yourself worse, or hurt the surfer. Pay attention to your surroundings, Leo. Now get the food from your mother. Kam, help your brother and bring the plates out, too.” Their father said.
When the boys came back out with all the food and other supplies for the barbecue, their sister, Allison, came out with them. The boys set the stuff on the picnic table, and Alli began setting it up.
“Nice shiner, big brother,” Allison said.
“Thanks,” Leo said, shaking his head, and repeated to her the same thing that he just told his father.
Alli smirked and whispered, “Matt?”
Leo sighed and shook his head, then motioned for his sister to walk with him. Once they turned the corner of the house, he said, “Come on, Alli, you know dad would freak out. Don’t get me in trouble. Please.”
“Of course not. You should talk to Jazz, though. As much of a dick as he turned out to be, I don’t think he’d want to see you get hurt.” Allison said.
“I know. I’m sure I’ll see Jazz at school. I’ll say something to him. Maybe he’ll keep Matt away from me. I hate asking him for a favor, but maybe it’s the only way.” Leo said. “Anyway, let’s get back before dad gets mad.”
After dinner, Leo told his mom that he was going to go for a walk on the beach. As he was about to leave the house, Kam caught up to him. “Hey, Leo, want me to come with?”
“Nah, bro. I’m just going to take a walk and chill out for a bit. I’m not going too far.” Leo blushed and smiled. “Maybe just as far as the lighthouse.”
“Ah-ha! Ok, bro. Have fun! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” Kam laughed.
“Well, that leaves my options wide open!” Leo clapped his brother on the shoulder and turned and left the house. He jogged across the street and leaped over the fence onto the beach like he’d down a million times before, this time though he winced in pain when he landed. Mentally cursing himself for his stupidity, he turned and started walking up the beach towards the lighthouse, hoping to see Charlie.
About halfway to the lighthouse, Leo saw a lone figure standing at the edge of the water, throwing rocks into the sea. He looked close to make sure it wasn’t Matt, but it wasn’t. It was Charlie. Leo walked up behind the other boy. Leo saw a look of intense concentration on Charlie’s face, apparently lost in his thoughts and not paying attention to his surroundings. Leo leaned in close. “Hey, gorgeous. You come here often.”
Charlie jumped and spun around. “Leo! You scared the crap out of me!” Charlie clutched at his heart, took a deep breath, and then laughed. “I didn’t think I would see you again until tomorrow. How did I get so lucky?”
Leo shrugged and smiled. “I guess I wanted to see you again tonight. I can’t stay long, though. It’s already late and tomorrow is the first day of school. Walk with me back towards my house?”
“I’m glad you came. I wanted to see you again, too. Yeah, let’s walk.” Charlie held out his hand towards Leo. Leo took Charlie’s hand, and the two walked back towards Leo’s house, hand in hand.
About halfway there they heard someone yell from off to their right. “Hey! Hey, guys! Wait a minute!”
Leo cringed and nearly hid behind Charlie before he realized that the voice did not belong to Matt. He turned and saw a boy about his own age running from the beach parking lot toward where he and Charlie stood.
The boy ran up and stopped right in front of Leo. “Thanks for waiting. I… I’m kinda lost.” The boy huffed out a laugh. “We just moved here a couple days ago, and I was out walking around the neighborhood and now I don’t know where my street is. Can you guys send me in the right direction for Spruce Street?” The boy ran a hand through his short, sandy brown hair. He looked at Leo, but then he blushed and looked down, unable to maintain eye contact.
Leo smiled and blushed a little. This guy was cute as hell, but Leo was standing here holding hands with Charlie. Nearly seven months of being single and then me meets two cuties on the same day. What’re the odds?! Leo cleared his throat. “Uh, go back through that parking lot that you were just in then take a left. Take your first right and then a left. Spruce will be the second left. It’s actually only one street away from where I live. Welcome to the neighborhood! My name is Leo.”
“Thanks, Leo. I’m Reese. Maybe I’ll see you at school. Have a good night!” And with that, Reese turned and ran back toward the parking lot, disappearing into the growing darkness.
Leo and Charlie walked in silence for a while, each casting quick glances at the other before Charlie finally cleared his throat, breaking the silence. “So, are you excited for senior year? Have you decided on a college yet?”
“Yes, for the first question, and no for the second one. I’m still not sure what I want to do with my life. Probably business management, but my dad is trying to push me into something science related. Everything in my life is just so confusing right now. That’s why I’ve started running every morning with my brother. It’s really the only time that I can focus and think things through. I’m even considering trying out for cross country or track. Kam is, too. He’s going to be a freshman this year, so this is the perfect time for him to get involved. They might not want a senior who has never really run before.” Leo shrugged.
“That would be so cool if you both make the team! I’m sure you can do it. Is that what you were doing on the beach this morning? Training?”
“Yeah. We were running on the beach, but I stopped to rest, and Kam went on ahead. That’s why I was alone when Matt found me.”
“That dude was a jerk. I’m glad I showed up when I did.”
Before they knew it, they were at the fence across from Leo’s house. The sun was just setting, and it was dusk but not dark.
“I guess this is my stop.” Leo looked up into Charlie’s dark eyes; Charlie was a good three inches taller. “I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess. I’ll text you when I get home, and you can tell me what your plans are.”
“That sounds great. I’ll make sure that I have some free time to meet up.” Charlie leaned in, very close to Leo.
Leo leaned back and felt his back press firmly against the fence. Charlie was so close that Leo could feel his body heat. “O-ok. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
Charlie leaned in even closer. He thought about kissing Leo, then chickened out at the last minute. Charlie wasn’t sure how far either of them wanted this to go, knowing that he was leaving in just a few days.
Leo sighed, still looking up at Charlie. “I have to go.” He leaned in and gave the other boy a quick hug. “Good night! See you tomorrow!” This time Leo went around the fence instead of jumping over it and headed back home as Charlie turned and started walking back towards the lighthouse, smiling like an idiot.
Leo rolled over and reached for his phone, 4:47. Ugh. Even earlier than yesterday. Sleep, for Leo, was becoming harder and harder to come by. He just couldn’t shut his brain down. He felt his entire world collapsing around him, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He needed to go for a run. Running focused his scattered thoughts. Leo slid out of bed, grabbed a pair of shorts and a t-shirt from the pile of clothes on his desk, and walked into the connecting bathroom towards his brother Kam’s room. Once in the bathroom, he splashed icy water on his face and ran his fingers through his tangled curly black hair. Leo desperately needed a haircut. He would start his senior year of high school tomorrow, and his hair looked like a giant black rat’s nest. Leo wet his hair some more and pushed it back out of his face. He slipped his shorts on over his slim hips and peered into Kam’s room. His brother still slept soundly.
“Kam, wake up. It’s time to run.” Leo flopped down on the bed next to his brother. The two boys looked remarkably similar, though Leo was three years older. The significant difference between the boys was their hairstyle. Both had jet black hair, but Kam kept his hair cut short in an almost military-style haircut while Leo wore his hair almost to his shoulders, and the long curly hair continually fell across his face. Leo flipped his hair out of his face again and pushed against his brother’s back. “Come on, Kam. Get out of bed. You said you wanted to run with me!”
Kam groaned. “Leo, it’s just after 5 am. What’s wrong with you? Sleep in. It’s the last day of summer break!” Kam glanced at his cell phone then looked at his brother. He saw the pleading look in Leo’s eyes, and he relented. “Ok, ok! Give me five minutes.” Kam threw back the sheet and got out of bed. He padded slowly to the bathroom, glancing back at his brother. “The beach again?”
“Of course! Maybe we’ll go for a swim to cool down afterward.” Leo grinned at his brother even though troubling thoughts clouded his mind. At seventeen, such heavy burdens should not continually invade his mind.
Leo tried to put the troubling thoughts out of his mind as he waited for his brother to return from the bathroom. Maybe the run would help. He was glad that Kam ran with him. They had some of their best talks while they ran. Kam stepped out of the bathroom dressed in tan cargo shorts and a red tank top. He wore no shoes since they would be running on the beach, and they preferred to run barefoot. Leo glanced up when Kam entered the room. “Ready, bro?”
“Yeah, let’s go.” They quietly left the house, trying not to wake anyone else up. They broke into a jog, crossed the street, and jumped the fence onto the beach, landing with a soft thump in the sun-warmed sand. Kam nodded his head towards the south. “To the lighthouse this time, Leo?”
“Sounds good to me. That’s just over three miles. Down and back should be about six and a half. Last time we went that way, we did it in fifty-seven minutes. Let’s beat that today. Let’s go.” The boys set the timers on their watches, bumped fists, and took off down the beach.
While they ran, Kam tried engaging his older brother in conversation. He knew his brother well enough to know that he had a lot on his mind. “Leo, what’s up with you? Talk to me. You know it’ll stay between us.” He gave Leo a light push to the shoulder.
Leo swatted his brother’s hand away. “Don’t make me hurt you, Kameron. Yeah, you’re right. A lot has been running through my head. I haven’t even been sleeping much.”
“Talk to me. I might not have any advice, but maybe it’ll help just to say it out loud.” Kam said as he kept pace with Leo, stride for stride.
Leo sighed. “Starting senior year is one thing. All that drama with Jasper last spring, I just hope everyone has forgotten about it and moved on to other gossip. The breakup was hard enough, but him outing me at school hurt bad. Ugh. I still have feelings for that jerk, even after what he did. I’m scared that if he asked me out again, I’d say yes.”
“You better not, Leo. I’d punch both of you. That asshole cheated on you! You walked in on them for crying out loud! That scumbag can’t even deny it, Leo. I know you can’t control how you feel, but you’d be an idiot to even think of going back to him.” Kam’s face showed the anger he felt. Not anger at Leo, but at Jasper for what he put Leo through.
“I know. I know. I won’t do it, but I’m just saying that seeing Jazz every day won’t be easy. We were best friends for ten years before we even started dating.” Leo said, trying to calm his brother’s anger. “I won’t go back to him, Kam. I promise.”
“You’ll find someone else before you know it, Leo. Forget about him.” Kam said.
“Yeah, well, that brings me to the second problem. Dad. He’s still not accepting that I’m gay. Hell, if I got a new boyfriend, it would probably make it even worse. And I feel like shit that dad and mom argue about me all the damn time. Allison’s attitude about it improved a lot from last year, but dad hasn’t changed even a little.” Leo said, sadness creeping into his voice. “Why can’t they all be like you, little brother?”
“I am quite awesome, aren’t I?” Kam smirked. “I don’t know. You’re right about Alli, though, and mom. They have both turned it around. They’re not waving pride flags, but they’re getting there. I hope dad comes around, too, Leo. I really do.”
The boys reached the halfway point, the lighthouse. They started their return trip when Leo stopped and dropped to his knees. He felt dizzy. Kam noticed that his brother was no longer at his side, and he turned back, “Leo, you ok?” Kam knelt, resting his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “You don’t look so good. What’s wrong?”
Leo took a deep breath and looked up at his brother and smiled, even though the world still felt like it was spinning out of control around him. “I’m fine, Kam. Just a little tired, I guess. Go on ahead, and I’ll catch up. I know you planned on meeting up with Tommy later. Just go on ahead. I’m fine.”
“Bullshit. You’re not even close to fine. Tell me what’s wrong, Leo.” Kam kept one hand on his brother’s shoulder, and he placed the other hand under Leo’s chin, forcing him to look into his eyes when he answered.
“Ok. Ok. There’s been one more thing bothering me lately, but it’s probably nothing.” He pulled back from his brother just enough to sit down on the sand. “I’ve had these dizzy spells. And headaches. Bad ones. You can’t tell mom, Kam. Promise me. Not yet. I’ll tell her if they get any worse or if they don’t go away soon.” He looked pleadingly into his brother’s eyes.
Kam sighed. “It’s from the accident, isn’t it? You think it’s more than just your migraines. God, Leo, you have to tell her. I promise I won’t rat you out, but you have to tell mom soon. We almost lost you back then, and I couldn’t even begin to imagine losing you now.” Kam made a show of wiping the sweat off his forehead, hiding the fact that he also wiped tears from his eyes. Kam thoughts drifted back to six years ago, he was only eight, and Leo was eleven. Leo died, only for a couple of minutes, and the medic brought him back, but Leo still had a lot of lingering problems.
“Kam, it’s probably nothing. I’ll keep an eye on it. You know if I tell her, she’ll have me in the doctor’s office the next day. I’ve had enough doctors, hospitals, and tests to last a lifetime. The six-month check-ups are bad enough. I don’t want more tests if I can avoid it. I promise I’ll tell you everything and I’ll tell mom if it gets worse. Please? Ok?”
Kam still looked concerned but stood up to go. “Alright, if you’re sure. I’ll hold you to that promise, though. See you later at home. If you take too long getting back, I’m coming to look for you.” Kam turned and headed towards home, leaving Leo alone on the beach.
Leo took a few deep breaths as he watched his brother disappear into the distance. The dizziness started to pass, but now he had a severe migraine. Leo needed to get home and take one of his pills. He forced himself to his feet and started walking towards home.
Leo heard him before he saw him. Matt Henderson. The guy that Jasper cheated on him with. Leo started to walk faster. Matt yelled from behind him. “Kennedy! Hey, Kennedy!” He ran up beside Leo and grabbed his arm. “Hey, I want to talk to you. Stop walking.”
“What do you want, Matt? I have nothing to say to you. Not today. Not ever. Just leave me alone!” Leo tried to break free of the bigger boy’s grasp but couldn’t pull away. Leo pulled back harder, and suddenly Matt just let go, and Leo fell to the ground. Looking up at Matt with a scowl forming on his face, Leo said, “You’re an asshat, Matt. A boyfriend-stealing skanky asshat!” Leo fought back the tears, not wanting this jerk to see him cry. Leo started to get up, and the next thing he saw was Matt’s fist hurtling towards his face. Before he could react, Leo felt pain explode in the right side of his face, and he fell back onto the sand.
Matt roared, “Do you think you can say things like that and walk away, Kennedy? No way! And I didn’t steal Jasper. You couldn’t keep him happy. I can.” Matt drew his foot back and began kicking Leo.
Leo saw Matt’s foot swinging towards him and quickly covered his face with his arms. He felt the kicks strike his arms, his sides, and his back. He rolled himself into a ball to try and protect himself from the attack. Leo felt himself starting to blackout. Then he heard a yell and the thump of two bodies colliding. More shouts and more thumping sounds closely followed the collision, and then Leo heard screams of pain and rage. The kicking stopped.
Leo opened his eyes and found the most beautiful face he had ever seen hovering just above him. For a moment, Leo feared that he was seeing the face of an angel. He wasn’t sure if he was dead, dreaming, or just hallucinating. It had to be one of those. This guy was far too beautiful to be real. Leo blinked a few times to try and clear his head. The face above him smiled and spoke. “Hey, are you ok? My name is Charlie. If you’re feeling up to it, I think we better go before my new friend over there gets back up.” Charlie extended his hand down towards Leo.
Leo couldn’t even respond. The beauty of the guy in front of him left him speechless. Jet black hair combed back, framing a tan, smooth face. Slim features but a strong jawline. And those eyes. The darkest brown eyes that Leo had ever seen. He felt butterflies fluttering in his stomach, and he thought he could lose himself in those brown eyes forever. He blinked again and saw the boy’s hand extended down towards him, dripping with blood. Leo finally found his voice. “Oh, my God. Are you hurt? Your hand is bleeding. Did Matt do that? Is he still here?” Leo tried to get up but groaned in pain, clutching his ribs and falling back to the sand yet again.
Charlie lightly touched Leo’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about me. Most of it isn’t even my blood.” He pointed behind him. “If that’s Matt, then he didn’t leave. He’s too busy spitting up blood and deciding if he wants to get up or do the smart thing and stay where he is. Let’s leave before he makes his decision.” Charlie grabbed ahold of Leo’s wrist and gently pulled him to his feet. “Do you think you can walk with some help, or should I just carry you?”
Leo swayed on his feet and leaned into Charlie. “I couldn’t walk on my own, but with some help, I think I can. My left ankle hurts like hell, and I might have a broken rib or two, but if you help me, I can walk without you carrying me. Though that does sound divine.”
Charlie smiled despite his anger. “Save the flirting for later. Let’s get you out of here.” Charlie looked back at Matt and emitted a low growl. “If I didn’t need to get you out of here, I would pick him back up and knock him down a few more times. It didn’t look like he was going to stop kicking you anytime soon when I arrived.” Charlie slipped his arm around Leo’s waist. “Put your arm around my neck. I’ll help you to the cottage where my mum and I are staying. It’s just over there.” He motioned with his head towards the lighthouse. He couldn’t point as both his hands were busy supporting Leo.
Leo groaned in pain and leaned more heavily against Charlie, his head coming to rest on the taller boy’s shoulder. “I didn’t know anyone lived in the lighthouse,” Leo said. Even with all the pain, he didn’t mind at all the close contact with this boy. He let Charlie lead him down the beach towards the cottage near the lighthouse.
“Me and mum rented it while we see some of the sights around here,” Charlie said. “Let’s get you inside and look at your injuries. We can talk once we get you inside.”
Half carrying Leo, Charlie slowly made his way to the cottage. Once inside, he glanced around, looking for his mum. “Mum! Are you here? I need some help out here!” Hearing no response to his yells, Charlie guided Leo towards the couch and helped him to sit. He pulled the ottoman over and made Leo put his feet up. Charlie knelt next to the other boy. “Are you sure you don’t want me to take you to the hospital or call your parents? You look pretty beat up.”
“No. I’m fine. Just let me rest here. I don’t want to have to explain to my dad what happened.” Now that he could sit back and relax a bit, Leo took a closer look at his rescuer. His eyes raked up and down Charlie’s body, absorbing his beauty. Charlie wore a worn grey t-shirt, tan board shorts, white ankle socks, and red Nikes. He was slightly taller than Leo’s 5’9”. He must spend a lot of time on the beach or at least outdoors. His athletic body was a deep golden tan, probably from lots of time in the sun. Leo’s gaze returned to Charlie’s face and that beautiful hair. How much hairspray did it take to keep it that perfect? Charlie had a sly grin and a twinkle in his eye as he looked back at Leo.
“See something you like?” Charlie’s grin opened into a broad smile.
“You’re not from here, are you? Your accent is pretty hot.” Leo smirked.
Charlie laughed, “No. As I said, we are on holiday. We’re from Australia, the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, to be specific. I just graduated from school, and we have always wanted to see America. This was the perfect time for a holiday. Perfect timing to save you, too.” Charlie continued to lock eyes with Leo.
Leo sighed. “I knew it. Even without the accent, I would have known you weren’t from here. I would have noticed you.”
Charlie’s smile faded a bit, and he looked at Leo with concern. “I enjoy your flirting, and I don’t care that you’re gay, Leo. But you don’t know me. I just as easily could have joined in with the guy that was beating you. You need to be more careful revealing your sexuality to strangers.”
Leo blushed and looked down. “I know. I know. You’re right, Charlie. I just couldn’t help myself when I saw you. I’m not usually this forward. There’s just something about you.” Leo sighed.
It was Charlie’s turn to blush now. “Anyway, let me check out your injuries and see if I need to talk you into going to the hospital or not. I’m going into nursing school when I get back home. Mum is an emergency room nurse, and I have learned a few things from her already. Tell me if anything hurts.” Charlie reached forward and lightly grasped Leo’s right ankle. He carefully watched Leo’s face for any sign of pain or discomfort. He grabbed Leo’s foot with his other hand to see if he could bend his foot with no pain.
Leo yelped in pain. “Ow! Yeah, that hurts when you bend it.”
Charlie let go of Leo’s leg and foot. “It’s swollen and tender, but it’s not broken. I’ll wrap it in an ace bandage and give you some Tylenol for the pain. Now let me check those ribs. Off with your shirt.” Charlie blushed just a bit as he said that. He looked up towards Leo’s face and gasped. “Holy hell. I didn’t realize he also hit you in the face. You have a big bruise on your cheek that extends down to your jawline. Does it hurt?” Charlie reached up and touched Leo’s face. “Let me go get you an icepack for that.”
“I’m still thinking about you asking me to take my shirt off. I usually expect dinner and a movie first, but I can make an exception in this case.” Leo reached up and pressed Charlie’s hand more firmly into his face. He looked Charlie in the eyes. “The icepack can wait. This feels better.”
Charlie blushed under the intensity of Leo’s gaze. He felt his body reacting to Leo’s touch. Charlie smiled but pulled his hand from the younger boy’s grasp. He stammered out, “I need to check the rest of your injuries. Let’s get that shirt off.”
Leo gave a half-smile and sighed. “To be honest, I need you to help me with that. My ribs and side hurt, and I’m not sure how high I can raise my arms.”
Charlie sighed and thought Leo might be exaggerating his injury to get him to take the shirt off. Their eyes locked as he grabbed hold of the bottom of the t-shirt. Charlie’s fingertips slid up Leo’s sides and arms as he pulled the shirt up and over Leo’s head. Leo’s body quivered and broke out in goosebumps, and he let out an audible moan. Charlie set the shirt down on the couch and adjusted the growing bulge in his pants while Leo’s gaze was elsewhere. He let out a low whistle when he looked at Leo’s right side. “Leo, how bad does that hurt? It’s already turning purple, almost your whole right side, and onto your back.” Charlie gingerly touched the bruised areas. He put his hand flat against the side of Leo’s ribs. “Hey, take a couple of deep breaths for me, please.” Leo took two deep breaths, groaning slightly each time he inhaled. Leo opened his mouth to answer, but movement over Charlie’s right shoulder caught his attention.
From the doorway of the cottage, the boys heard someone loudly clearing their throat, and then a female voice said. “Charlie Davis! What is going on here?”
Leo Kennedy hated family picnics, and the annual Memorial Day picnic at his grandparent’s house was always the worst, in his opinion. At least this year the weather was beautiful, eighty-four degrees and not a cloud in the sky. Last year it rained, and everyone was jammed together inside the house. He scanned the crowd of relatives, looking for his brother Kameron, but he didn’t see him anywhere.
Leo grabbed a bottle of water out of the cooler and jumped over the porch railing, heading for the edge of the yard. If he couldn’t find Kam, he just wanted to be left alone. He was about to sit down when he noticed someone else sitting by themselves just staring off into the distance. Leo thought for a moment then picked up his chair and strolled over to where the man was seated. He set his lawn chair down next to the older man and sat down. “Hey, Uncle Kai, nice day, isn’t it?”
Kai took off his sunglasses and made a show of looking all around and behind his nephew. “You look like my nephew Leo, but he usually has two shadows close at his heels. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him by himself before.”
Leo snorted with laughter. “Jazz had to go to his own family picnic, and I’m not sure where Kam disappeared to. I’m by myself, sometimes.”
“Jasper is a very close friend, isn’t he?” Kai asked with a raised eyebrow.
Leo blushed. “We’ve been best friends since the first day of kindergarten and sophomore year is over in two weeks! So, yeah, we’re pretty close.”
“Leo, I want you to know that you can come to me any time and ask me anything. Even things that your parents may not be willing to understand.”
“I know, Uncle Kai. Thank you.” Leo squirmed in his seat and then looked back at his uncle. “Uncle Kai, how come grandma won’t even mention your friend’s name. The one that died in the war. Today is Memorial Day, a day to remember people like that. The family knew him. Shouldn’t we celebrate him most of all?”
Tears stung Kai’s eyes. “I celebrate him every single day, Leo.”
“He was your best friend, wasn’t he?”
The beginnings of a smile formed on Kai’s face. “Yes, Leo, he was my best friend.”
“Was he,” Leo hesitated, “was he more than your best friend?”
“He was much more than my best friend. He was the love of my life. He was my hero long before he was a hero to the country. He won me my own freedom, then all too soon he went off to Kuwait and Iraq to win others their freedom.”
“What do you mean he won you your freedom? Freedom from what?”
“Freedom from your grandmother. I’m sure you can see how she is. You are a brilliant boy for sixteen, Leo. After your father moved out, your grandmother monopolized all my time. She wanted me with her always. Anytime that anyone got close, she tried to push them away. Doug was the only one who stuck by me, and it was only because of him that I managed to get out from under her thumb. That’s why she still hates him to this day, even though he’s been dead for twenty-eight years.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean about grandma. I love her, but she is a bit overbearing. How did he help you, though? Why does she hate him so much?”
“You say she’s overbearing? That doesn’t even begin to describe how she was when I was your age. She had me scared of everything. Fear was my constant companion, especially fear of change. Any sort of change sent me into extreme anxiety attacks. Doug was the only one who could pull me out of it. By the time that I was eighteen, I knew that the only way for me to have a normal life was to get out of this house. She tried to make me stay, but thoughts of Doug pushed me forward through my fear. Let me tell you a story, Leo. The story of the day that I finally moved out of this very house. The day that Doug won his first battle and gained me my freedom.
The door was open, but fear held Kai in place. He needed to go through the door. Four steps, only four steps. He just needed the courage to make his feet take those last four steps.
Fear gnawed away at Kai Kennedy’s very soul, infecting almost everything in his life. Now, finally, on the verge of freedom, he was even scared of not being scared anymore. He was used to the fear. Change is what had him scared now. Change of any kind was a frightening prospect for Kai.
Kai’s life had been almost entirely without change for nearly all his eighteen years. Kai lived with his mother. He knew his mother loved him, but it was an over-bearing, jealous love. Kai’s mother craved attention. She needed all of Kai’s attention. All of Kai’s love. If he gave love or attention to anyone or anything else, it sent his mother into a rage. So, Kai gave his mother the care she needed. He didn’t go out with friends, he didn’t date, he didn’t do much of anything except spend time with his mother.
Kai’s thoughts returned to his present situation. The doorway. He still wasn’t any closer to it than he had been ten minutes ago. He knew a different life waited for him outside that door. He wanted that life, but he was scared to leave this one. It’s not that he liked the life he was living; it’s just that he was used to it. It was comfortable. Kai smiled for a minute. The reasons he thought of as positive were precisely the reasons that Doug told him he needed to change it. It was Doug that made Kai smile now. It was Doug that gave Kai the strength to consider this change. Thoughts of Doug made Kai smile again, and he took a step towards the door.
Three more steps now and he’d be free, just three more steps.
Kai couldn’t see through the doorway for some reason. It was just darkness where the doorway should have been even though the door was open, and it was the middle of the afternoon. Kai was beginning to feel light headed and dizzy from all the emotions raging through his heart and mind. His thoughts drifted back to his mother.
There had been plenty of good times between Kai and his mother. They had a lot of fun together over the years. He laughed when he remembered some of the family gatherings. He loved his family, especially his mom. He just wished she would let him love other people as well. When Kai would get close to someone, his mother would grow angry and try to destroy the relationship. She would try to fill Kai’s mind with any fault she could find with the other person. If that didn’t work, she would just use up so much of Kai’s time doing things for her that the other person would grow tired of it and go away on their own. The exception to this was Doug. Doug had stayed by Kai’s side through thick and thin. Doug wouldn’t allow Kai’s mother to drive him away. Kai’s mother hated Doug because of that, but Kai wouldn’t listen to her about him. The thought of his mother’s hatred of the one thing he loved angered Kai, and he took another step forward.
Two more steps now, just two more steps.
Kai loved his mother… and hated her at the same time if that was possible. He loved her for all the good things she had brought into his life. She had brought him up well and taught him a lot, but she had also sheltered him from the rest of the world. Kai didn’t believe that she did it on purpose. She craved the attention and felt she deserved it. She told him she had given up a lot for him, and she expected him to do the same for her. Kai had done just that. He had been made fun of all through school because he was so different from everybody else. He was always off by himself and didn’t get involved in any activities with anyone else. That was until Doug came into his life. Doug talked Kai into doing things. Not terrible things, just things that a kid like Kai should have been doing all along. Things like going to Prom. That’s when Kai’s mother’s dislike of Doug became pure hatred. She could sense that Kai was drifting away from her. She started trying to drive a wedge between Kai and Doug, but by now it was already too late. Her meddling in their relationship just drove Kai closer to Doug instead of the other way around. Now, two months later, a moving van stood packed in the driveway, packed with all of Kai’s things. Kai was moving out of his mother’s house and into his own apartment. An apartment he would share with Doug. Kai’s mother told him that if he did that that she would never want to see him again. She thought that he would change his mind. He didn’t. He cried at the things his mother said to him and about him, but he felt she would reconsider after she calmed down. Her threats only made him surer of his decision. He cleared his head and came back to the present again. He took another step towards the doorway.
One more step now, only one more step.
Kai’s mother was screeching in the background. “Kai, you will be sorry if you go with him! Don’t leave me! He won’t be there for you like I always am, Kai! You’re making a mistake! Don’t go to him!”
Just as Kai thought he couldn’t take that last step, a hand reached through the doorway. Kai smiled. He would recognize that hand anywhere. Kai could have grasped that hand and let himself be pulled through the door, but Kai knew for his own peace of mind that he needed to take the last step by himself. Knowing who was on the other side, waiting for him to step through was all the help he needed. Kai took a deep breath, looked back one last time, and then stepped through the doorway.
As soon as he was on the other side of the door, Kai felt a huge weight lift from his shoulders. The stress of the moment overcame him, and Kai felt himself grow weak, the world around him started to go dim. Kai started to fall, but he never hit the ground. He felt himself being carried down the steps and away from the house. Kai looked up and saw the face of his best friend, his boyfriend, Doug. Kai knew he was safe. His last thought before he allowed himself to drift off was that his life would never be the same. Kai wasn’t scared anymore. Kai Kennedy was finally free.
Leo had tears streaming down his face. “Uncle Kai, that was a beautiful story, and Doug should be celebrated just for that even if he hadn’t ever gone to war.”
Kai patted his nephew’s hand. “Thank you for saying that, Leo, but I think you know that most in this family would not agree.”
Leo blushed. “I know. It really sucks. You don’t think my dad would accept a relationship like that, do you?”
Kai struggled to find the right words. “The look in his eyes, even today, when I mention Doug tells me that he probably wouldn’t. Times are a lot different now than they were in 1986 when I was your age. Even if you don’t feel that you can tell your dad yet, there must be people you can talk to.”
Leo’s eyes grew wide. “Me? What makes you think that I’m asking these questions because of me?”
Kai rolled his eyes. “I’m old, but I’m not dead. Even before we started talking today, I suspected. I see the way you and Jasper look at each other. It reminds me so much of Doug and me. Are you two, uh, are you two a couple?”
Now Leo was really blushing. “No! Nothing like that!” He shrugged. “Not yet, anyway. We have talked about it. A lot. And Uncle Kai, you’re not old!”
Kai chuckled. “At sixteen, I definitely considered forty-eight old but thank you for saying that.”
“You’re the coolest adult I know, Uncle Kai. You’re not gonna tell anyone about me, are you?”
“Of course not. No one should ever be outed against their will by someone else. I do suggest you find someone that you trust to tell. Maybe your brother or your sister?”
“Definitely not Allison. Maybe Kam. I can trust him.”
“Speak of the devil. There he is now.”
Kam waved from the other side of the yard. Leo grinned. “I should go check on him before he gets himself into trouble. Thanks for the talk, Uncle Kai. I’m glad you know. Your friend Doug was a true hero. Happy Memorial Day!”
Kai Kennedy wiped the tears from his eyes as he watched Leo race across the yard. Tears of sadness at the memory of his lost love, but also tears of joy at the bright future he sensed for his young nephew.
Juan found his way to the center of the park and the section that they had roped off with yellow tape yesterday morning. The spot where they found Kim. They said a bear attacked her. Juan had never heard of a bear in Lakeside Park before. It was all so unreal. The park seemed unusually quiet tonight. Probably because of the curfew. He hadn’t seen anyone else in the park on his way here. He couldn’t be sure exactly where they found her body, so he found a spot under a tree just off the path to leave the flowers. He lowered his head and said a prayer for Kim.
Brad spotted the wolf right after Johnny left the path. At first, fear held him in place, and he couldn’t move. Then he felt the weight of the camera around his neck and remembered that this was precisely why he was here. However, now he had two tasks. First, he had to somehow save Johnny and get them both to safety. But second, he still wanted desperately to get photographic evidence of the werewolf, so he could go to the police and not have them write him off as crazy.
These thoughts in mind, he started moving again. He left the path to seek the cover of the trees, but he only dared to just go barely inside the edge of the woods. Once off the trail, he crouched down and snapped the biggest zoom lens he had onto his camera. He scanned all around with his camera, trying to use it to better locate Johnny or the wolf. Then he saw him. Johnny was lying down, hiding in a clump of bushes about seventy yards ahead and off to the left of the path. Brad almost breathed a sigh of relief at finding the boy, but then on the camera screen, he noticed something else. Not more than thirty feet behind Johnny, and getting closer, was a pair of bright shining blue eyes. The same bright shining eyes that freaked him out just last night, the eyes of the werewolf. Something was off, though. Something about the wolf was different than last night. Then it hit him. The wolf last night had been silver and grey, this wolf was a light brown. That’s weird. Could a werewolf be different colors every time they changed? Or worse, could there be two werewolves? Brad didn’t even want to believe there was one, much less two. He tried to push those thoughts out of his head for now and push forward with what he needed to do. Camera in one hand and cell phone in the other, Brad sprinted towards both Johnny and the wolf. He no longer cared about being quiet, now was the time for action.
Brad reached Johnny’s hiding spot just in time to see the boy turn his head and see the beast. Brad ran off the path and crashed into the bush, not stopping until he was right beside Johnny. Johnny screamed. Brad screamed. The wolf snarled, growled, and moved forward.
Without even thinking about what he was doing, Brad turned the music player on his phone on and up to full volume and raised his camera and started taking pictures. Johnny was still screaming. Rock music blared at maximum volume. The camera flash flashed non-stop. The werewolf snarled and growled, wildly flipping its head from side to side. It stood up straight and howled. With one last growl, the beast turned and fled into the darkness.
Johnny ran to Brad and wrapped his arms around him. He buried his face into the chest of the older boy, tears streaming down his young face. Through choked sobs, he spoke. “Brad, what was that? It wasn’t a bear. It looked like a werewolf, but those aren’t real, are they? They’re just in movies and tv. Werewolves can’t be real, can they? Brad, you saved my life! I’m so scared. Please take me home before it comes back and eats us both! Come on, Brad, let’s go!” Johnny started pulling on Brad’s arm, directing him back towards his house, his chocolate ice cream was long forgotten.
Brad followed along with Johnny, clutching tight to the boy’s hand. “Johnny, it sure did look like a werewolf to me, too. I didn’t think they were real either. I think I got lots of pictures of it on my camera. Maybe your dad can look at them and tell us both what he thinks it was.”
“Yeah. My dad will know. He’s the sheriff. He’ll find it and kill it, whatever it was, to keep us all safe.” Johnny said, still walking quickly towards the edge of the park and home.
“Yeah. He’ll kill it for sure.” Brad held tight to the boy’s hand but found himself lost in thought. Two wolves. Two very different wolves if he was being honest with himself. As odd as it was to try to pin personality traits onto something that he didn’t even want to believe in, he thought that they were very different wolves. The silvery grey one from last night didn’t hesitate to attack and kill Kevin. There would have been no stopping it no matter how much noise he made. He was sure of that. Tonight, though, even before he ran in, the wolf was just lying there watching Johnny. Then, as soon as Brad rushed in, the wolf was startled and growled and howled, but it took the first opportunity to turn and run. It didn’t attack, it didn’t even stay to put up much of a fight. What the hell was going on?
“Brad! Come on! This way! We’re almost to my house!”
Brad shook his head to clear his thoughts and ran with Johnny toward the Hanson house.
Juan was still praying when he heard the first scream. He jumped to his feet, looking all around. Then he heard a second scream followed by loud music. Juan took a couple steps towards where the noises were coming from, but then he heard a loud animalistic howl that froze him in his tracks. He took a couple steps backward, nearly stumbling over a large rock. He heard leaves rustling, and branches and twigs snapping as something or someone large ran through the forest. Juan was still frozen in place, right in the middle of the path, listening to whatever was running towards him. Then he saw something huge and grey break through the trees and run across the trail. He thought to himself that it was as big as a bear, but he didn’t think bears ran that fast on two legs, and he’d never seen or even heard of a bear that was silver or grey other than the koala. And this sure as hell wasn’t a koala. The creature stopped, just as it crossed the path and swung its head towards Juan. It stood straight up, lifted its head, and howled.
Brad and Johnny exited the park and nearly sprinted the last two blocks to the Hanson house. Out of breath, they slammed the door shut behind them and locked it. Both boys charged into the living room and collapsed on the couch.
Sheriff Hanson heard the commotion and rushed out of the kitchen and into the living room. “Johnny! Where have you been? You’re in big trouble, young man!” He saw Brad as he entered the room. “Brad Holliday, what are you doing here? You’re out past curfew. Does your mother know where you are?”
Johnny jumped up and grabbed his father’s arm. “Dad! Dad! We saw it! The monster! It’s not a dumb ole bear, it’s a werewolf!” Johnny was practically screaming. “Brad saw it too. He even took pictures!”
Sheriff Hanson looked down at his son, then over at Brad, then back at Johnny. “Johnny, I don’t know what you think you saw, but werewolves don’t exist. This isn’t the time to be making up stories. People have died, this isn’t a game or a joke.” He looked at Brad, hoping for support.
Brad released a sigh and looked up at the sheriff. “Sheriff Hanson, I’m sorry I broke curfew. No, my mom doesn’t know where I am or what I have been doing. I’ll call her after I talk to you. This is important.”
The sheriff glared at Brad. “Why were you out after curfew? What were you up to? And what’s this Johnny is saying about monsters and photographs?”
Brad sighed again and held up his camera. “Can I download the pics I took tonight onto your computer? Otherwise, you won’t believe me any more than you believe what Johnny said.”
The sheriff scowled. “What are you saying, Brad? What’s in the pictures?”
Brad flipped his camera over and removed the memory card. He got up and looked the sheriff right in the eye. “A werewolf, of course. I saw one kill Kevin last night and Johnny and I saw one tonight. I think they were different wolves, but at least I caught one on camera. Now, where is your computer?”
Juan stood completely still, frozen in fear, for just a moment, but that’s all it took for the wolf to charge at him with incredible speed. Juan snapped out of his trance but knew it was already too late to run. The creature was almost upon him. In one fluid movement, Juan sidestepped the beast, drew his switchblade, and drove the knife into the back of the wolf’s left shoulder. The beast howled in pain and anger. It spun towards Juan and slashed at him with its claws. The creature’s right claw connected with Juan’s back and tore through fabric, skin, and muscle, opening wounds in his back nearly from his neck to his waist. Juan screamed in agony and fell to his knees.
The wolf crouched, growling at Juan, and then sprung forward with a leap, ready to attack again. Juan dove forward, and the beast landed just behind him, snarling in frustration. Juan scrambled to his feet and ran right at the werewolf. He was quick and reached the wolf before it could turn towards him again. Juan wrenched his switchblade free of the wolf’s shoulder and slashed across its upper arm, eliciting another howl of pain.
The werewolf, enraged now, spun towards its prey, the prey that had hurt it twice now. Juan tried to take a step back, but it was too late. The wolf struck with incredible speed, slashing one huge claw across Juan’s chest. Juan fell to his knees again, crying and screaming in pain, the remains of his shirt hanging in tatters off his body. The five deep, jagged wounds poured blood down Juan’s chest and abs and onto the ground in front of him. The wounds on his back also still dripped blood down his body. The loss of blood now took its toll on Juan, and he began to get dizzy and fell face first onto the ground. Juan was barely conscious and could only utter a weak moan as he felt the huge teeth of the werewolf sink into the exposed flesh of his neck.
Sheriff Hanson shook his head when he heard what Brad had to say. “The computer is in the den. Follow me but call your mom right now. I’ll look at whatever it is you think you took pictures of once your mother knows you are safe.”
Brad frowned at the “whatever it is you think you took pictures of” comment, but he slipped his phone out of his pocket and called his mom. She answered on the first ring.
“Bradley Alexander Holliday! Where are you?! I have been worried sick! Matt and I have been calling you for an hour. Is David with you? He’s not here either!” Nancy screamed into the phone, a mixture of anger and fear gripping her body.
“Mom, please calm down. I’m ok. I’m at the Hanson’s right now. David isn’t home yet? I did see him earlier, but if he’s not home, I better tell the sheriff right now. Let me do that, and then I will answer all your questions.”
“At least you are somewhere safe, but you’re in big trouble when you get home! When we’re done talking, I want to talk to the sheriff.” Nancy yelled into the phone but hearing that he was with the sheriff did calm her nerves a bit.
“Alright, mom. I will, but chill. I’m totally fine. The sheriff is telling his deputies about David right now. Let me tell you about my night.” Brad sighed. He was scared for David, as he knew what was loose in the park.
“Honey, wait a minute.” Brad heard his mother continue talking, muffled by distance. She took the phone away from her mouth to talk to Matt. “Matt! I have Brad on the phone, but David isn’t with him. Brad’s at the Hanson’s. Keep trying to call your brother.” A slight pause and he heard Matt’s voice in the background. Then he heard his mom again. “I’m sure the sheriff is on top of it, but I’ll check.” His mom came back on the phone. “Brad, did the sheriff send people out looking for David?”
“Yes, mom. He called them as soon as I told him that David was out there.” Brad said.
“Good.” Nancy sighed. “Now tell me why you were out.”
Brad took a deep breath and started to tell his mom about his night. She let him tell his whole story without interruption. When he finished, he only heard silence on the other end of the phone. “Mom? Are you still there?” Then he heard her sigh.
Nancy sighed and took a deep breath before she responded to her son’s story. “Yes, I’m here, Bradley. You never should have gone into the park by yourself, especially without telling me. I… it’s just so hard to believe. I do think you have great instincts as a journalist, but this… have the sheriff call me as soon as you both look at your photographs.”
“Mom, it’s real. I’ve seen it twice. Johnny saw it, too. I think I got good pics, but you have to believe me no matter what. I gotta go, mom. The pics finished downloading onto his computer. Please believe me. I’m not lying to you. I know how this sounds, but it’s real.” Brad pleaded with his mother.
“We’ll talk about it more when you get home. Go check out the photos and then have Ronnie call me. Stay the night there. Matt and I will come get you tomorrow morning. Good night, son.” Nancy hung up the phone after Brad said goodnight. Then she went to talk to Matt.
Nancy walked into the living room where Matt was still frantically trying to get in touch with his brother.
“Any luck yet, Matt?” Nancy asked.
“No. It goes straight to voicemail now.” Matt replied through clenched teeth.
“Well, I have an interesting and unbelievable story that Brad just told me. He says he has proof, but it’s just so unreal.” Nancy shook her head and sighed.
“What did he say, Aunt Nancy? What’s he been doing all night?” Matt asked, while still obsessively checking his phone for messages from his brother.
“He claims he took his camera to the park and hid until after dark to get photos of the werewolf he witnessed kill Kevin Williamson.” Nancy rolled her eyes and looked over at Matt.
Matt felt like he was about to pass out. He paled and slumped back against the couch. His nightmares came rushing back into his mind along with everything that he and Eli had talked about tonight. It was all true. He had to talk to Elias. Things were happening faster and faster. Eli would know what to do. Oh, God, David is a werewolf. He tried to get a handle on his emotions before his aunt noticed there was anything wrong with him.
“Matt? Are you ok? You look like you’re about to pass out.” Nancy put her hand against her nephew’s forehead, checking for signs of a fever.
Matt sat up straight and looked at his aunt. “I’m fine, Aunt Nancy. Just a bit overwhelmed with worry for David and now this crazy story from Brad.” He faked a laugh. “Werewolves. Crazy.” He tried to smile reassuringly even though a million crazy thoughts were running through his head. “Was Brad going to call back after he looked at the pics?”
“I told him to have Sheriff Hanson call after they looked at them. I want a sane, objective opinion.” Nancy smiled. “It had to have been a bear or a big dog or even a wolf. Right, Matt? A werewolf. Humph. Not possible.”
“Yeah, Aunt Nancy. You’re right. What a crazy idea.” Matt faked another laugh, but his stomach twisted itself into knots, his worry for his brother growing by the minute.
Brad hung his head and nearly growled in frustration. The photographs were all completely blurry. You could see shapes and colors, but not a clear picture. “Look at this one, Sherriff. You can see the shape of its head and ears. And those two spots of blue are its eyes. When have you ever seen a bear with blue eyes? Come on, sheriff, I know the pics are blurry, but you have to see that much!” Brad looked at the sheriff with a mix of hope and despair.
“Brad, I’m sorry, but that could be anything or nothing at all. I can’t base an official decision on pics like these. I still say that it was a bear. Werewolves just don’t exist. It’s brown and it’s big, probably a grizzly.” The sheriff said as he looked from the photos to the two boys staring intently at him.
“Dad! I saw it, too! You have to believe us. It wasn’t some stupid ole bear. It was closer to me than you are right now. It was a werewolf. I swear!” Johnny looked up at his father, tears forming at the corners of his eyes.
“Just go to bed. We’ll talk about this in the morning.” He glanced at the doorway, where Terrie stood listening to the conversation. “You, too, Terrie. Set Brad up on the couch and then all of you go to bed.” The two Hanson kids left the room, leaving the sheriff alone with Brad.
Ronnie Hanson put his hand on Brad’s shoulder and looked down at the boy. “Brad, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to send these photos to a friend of mine in the crime lab up in Bangor. Maybe he can sharpen the image. I don’t know. I will agree that it doesn’t look like a bear, but I’m not even close to ready to believe in werewolves.”
Brad let out a big sigh. “Thank you, sheriff. Thank you for not blowing this off completely and thinking of me as a liar. I just hope it doesn’t take too long to get the photos back.”
“I’ll call your mother now and fill her in. I’ll also check in with my deputies and see if they’ve found David. You go get some sleep. You’ve had a long night, regardless of what you saw.” The sheriff took his phone out of his pocket as Brad left the room.
By the time that Brad got out to the living room, Terrie already had his bed set up and gone to bed herself. Brad stripped down to his t-shirt and boxers and lay on the make-shift bed. He gathered his thoughts and then picked up his phone and called Matt. His cousin picked up on the first ring.
“Brad! What the hell, dude? You and David had us so worried. Did the sheriff find David yet?” Matt didn’t even bother with a hello.
“I’m sorry, Matt, but I didn’t tell anyone what I was going to do. I didn’t want you or anyone else to try and talk me out of it. And no, they haven’t found David yet. The sheriff has all his deputies out looking for him. That’s not the only reason I called. Did mom tell you about our conversation?” Brad asked.
“Yeah. She told me, and it really got me curious and even more worried. I’ll explain why when we’re together, not over the phone. How’d your pics come out?” Matt wanted to say more but decided to wait until they saw each other face to face.
“The pictures are all crap. All of them are blurry. They just look like big brown blobs with two little blue blobs where the eyes should be. It really sucks, but the sheriff said he’ll send them out and try and get his friend to clean them up a bit.” Brad said in a low, depressed voice.
“Wait… what? Oh my God. Are you saying that the werewolf has blue eyes? You can’t be freaking serious. Tell me that’s not what you mean.” Disbelief hit Matt like a sledgehammer. He could barely breathe.
“Yeah. The werewolf has bright blue eyes. Weird, huh?” Brad said.
“Weirder than you know. By the way, when you saw David, was it before or after you saw the werewolf?” Matt asked.
“Before. Way before. The sun hadn’t even gone down yet when I saw David. Why?” Now Brad was curious about his cousin’s weird questions.
“I’ll talk to you about it tomorrow. There’s a lot I need to tell you and Terrie. Good night, Brad.” A zillion thoughts were running through Matt’s head, and he doubted if he would even sleep.
“Good night, Matt. See you tomorrow.” Brad hung up and went to sleep.
Matt put his phone on the nightstand and stared up at the ceiling. In his mind, he replayed the conversation with Brad and every detail of every nightmare about David and wolves that he’d ever had. The blue-eyed wolf had to be David. It hadn’t killed either Johnny or Brad tonight, but that still didn’t mean that it was innocent of the deaths the two prior nights. Matt knew that there were two werewolves roaming the night, he prayed that only one was a killer. Matt’s mind was still racing when he finally drifted off to sleep.
Once asleep, Matt began to dream. At first, it was the same old nightmare. It started with him in the car with his parents and sister, then the accident happened. The dream continued with him seeing the grey wolf eat David and then stand up and stare at him with its bright blue eyes, David’s eyes. That’s where his nightmares usually ended, but not tonight. Still, in the nightmare, the grey wolf snarled and started towards him. When the wolf moved, Matt saw three mutilated corpses behind it. Corpses were piled on top of the brown werewolf who was struggling to free itself. Matt tried to scream, but he couldn’t. The grey wolf was closing in on him. Matt finally was able to get up, turn and run away.
The scene in his nightmare then shifted, and he found himself in his bedroom here at Aunt Nancy’s house. He looked out the window and saw the brown werewolf running across the backyard towards the house. The wolf crashed into the bushes underneath David’s bedroom window, and that’s when Matt woke up. He sat bolt upright in bed, shaking. He ran his fingers through his sweat-soaked hair. Then he heard a sound outside his window. The same sound as in his dream. Someone or something was in the bushes outside David’s bedroom window.
He got up and looked out the window and thought he saw something big moving around. Scared but curious, he got his flashlight and shone it down towards the bushes. What he saw made him jump and then run quickly and quietly downstairs and out into the backyard. He hoped Aunt Nancy was still asleep.
Matt ran to the bushes and dropped to his knees next to the unconscious body of his brother. “David! Wake up!” Matt blinked away the tears as he looked down at his brother’s nearly naked body, covered in blood. The remnants of David’s clothes barely hung to his body in tattered shreds. Matt checked him for injuries but found nothing. There were white feathers stuck to the blood-stained clothing. Chicken feathers? Possibly.
Matt shook his brother. “David! Wake up. I need to get you in the house before anyone else sees you like this. Wake up!”
“Where am I? Matt? What’s going on?” David tried to sit up. Matt knelt by his brother and helped him sit up.
“I think I have an idea what’s going on, but right now we have to get you into the house. We can talk in there. You’re not going to like what I have to say though, David.” Matt grimaced and helped David to his feet.
“I’m ok to walk now, Matt. I was just a bit disoriented. And I’m thirsty. Let’s get into the house just like you said. I need some water. And obviously a shower.” David said, looking down at himself. He followed Matt into the house and up the stairs into his bedroom.
In the brightly lit bedroom, David stripped off the tattered remains of his clothes and looked at himself in the full-length mirror. “Matt, there’s something seriously wrong with me. This is the third night in a row that I’ve woken up covered in blood, with nothing to explain all the blood. It can’t be mine. What’s happening to me?” David looked at his brother, tears in his eyes.
“David, you’re a werewolf.” Matt simply stated.
“That’s what I was afraid of, but I didn’t want to say it out loud.” David hung his head and walked into the bathroom to take a shower.
“I believe you, Eli. Even though I’m scared, you make me feel safe, like the fear is all around me, but can’t touch me.”
“Speaking of touching, I think I better let go of you, before I get ideas that you might not like.”
“No!” Matt got a panicky look in his eyes and leaned in closer to Elias. “Please. Don’t. I think the physical contact is the only thing holding me together right now. I need your touch, Elias.”
Elias stared deep into Matt’s blue eyes and saw a spark of desire that he hadn’t seen before. He leaned in until his lips were mere inches from Matt’s own. “Is this what you want?” He asked as he slid his hands down Matt’s sides with just his fingertips touching Matt. “Tell me to stop and I will.”
“No. Yes. No. Oh hell. No, don’t stop. Yes, it’s what I want.” Matt groaned.
“I won’t do anything that you don’t want me to do, Matt. You say stop, and I stop.” Eli nearly purred, his words vibrating against Matt’s lips. Elias gripped both sides of Matt’s shirt and pulled it free from his jeans. It was almost like an electric shock from his fingertips to his groin when he felt Matt’s bare skin for the first time. “Is that good, baby? Do you want me to keep going?” Eli whispered in Matt’s ear as he slid his fingertips across the smooth firm muscles of Matt’s stomach, stopping just above the button on his jeans. With a wide grin on his face, Elias slid the fingers of his right hand beneath the waistband of both Matt’s jeans and boxer briefs.
“Eliasss, ooohhhh, yesssss.” Matt moaned as his head rolled back and his eyes closed. Matt thrust his hips forward, driving Eli’s fingers ever deeper below the waistband of his pants. Matt felt Eli’s fingertips brush against a part of him that no one other than himself had touched since he outgrew diapers. His head sprang forward, and he opened his eyes. Matt brought both his arms up and placed his hands squarely on Eli’s chest. “Elias, I…”
Eli interrupted him, his expression instantly changing to one of concern. “Do you want me to stop? Have we gone too far?”
“I…” Matt’s face looked conflicted. “I don’t want you to stop, Eli, but I need you to stop. Do you understand? I need to figure this out.”
Eli pulled his hand out of Matt’s waistband and palmed the side of Matt’s neck. “I understand. Take all the time you need. I will never rush you to do anything that you don’t want to do. You do want… what we were doing, right?”
“I’ve never wanted anything more. I think that’s what scares me. I thought I was falling in love with Terrie, and now…”
“Baby, I don’t want to scare you. Anything we do, we do at your pace.”
“You don’t scare me, Elias. My feelings do. I’ve never wanted to do anything with a guy before, but now I feel like I might explode if you don’t touch me again.”
“All you have to do is ask.” Elias said and placed his hand on the side of Matt’s neck again and stroked his thumb along the jawline.
Matt took in a deep breath and let it out. “We have to stop. I need time to process what just happened and figure out what I want.”
Eli leaned in until their mouths were less than an inch apart. “Can I have just one little taste before you go back to her?”
Matt moaned Eli’s name and turned his head, baring his neck to Elias in an open invitation. Elias nipped at Matt’s ear and then ran his tongue down his neck. Eli sucked at the sensitive skin in the hollow of Matt’s neck where it meets the collarbone, leaving a mark. Then his lips were back at Matt’s ear, and he whispered in a husky voice. “You are mine, Matthew Montana, and I am yours. Decide what you need to decide but know that we are destined to be. I will never deny you anything. Ask for the moon, and I will deliver it to your door.”
With a dreamy look on his face, Matt said. “For now, all I ask is for time to sort things out.” Then he got a serious look on his face. “You didn’t cast a love spell on me, right?”
Elias blushed and looked down. “Not unless you cast one on me first. I’ve belonged to you since you asked me for help in my dream. Now that I’ve touched you, now that I’ve had the taste of you on my tongue, I will belong to you forever.”
“You literally make my knees weak with the things you say, Eli. I… I just need to figure out things with Terrie. I honestly don’t know what I will feel when I see her again.”
“That’s fair. This,” Eli motioned his hand in between them. “happened suddenly. It’s new to you. I get it. Let’s go back to the kitchen table.” Eli turned and set up the chair for Matt to sit in and returned to his own seat.
Matt’s lips twisted upwards in a smile. “You seem so far away now.”
“Hey! You were the one who said to stop.”
“Yes, stop what we were doing… what we were about to do. But you can still hold my hand.” Matt reached across the table and took Eli’s hand, entwining their fingers.
Elias felt happier in that moment than he had ever been in his entire life. Even happier than he ever had been with Brad. “Matt?”
“Yeah, Eli? What’s wrong? You look worried?”
“Well, you asked me if I cast a spell on you, and I didn’t, but.”
“I know you didn’t. I trust you completely.”
“Let me finish. It’s important.”
Matt squeezed Eli’s hand reassuringly. “Finish. I’ll be quiet.”
“I didn’t cast a spell on you, but I have to be completely honest with you. Magic may be causing our bond, or at least enhancing it.” Eli sighed and continued. “There’s something I’ve read about called coven magic. Witches who bond themselves together in a coven become stronger. That’s why I can only do small things, because my coven is just me. I think that, when we bonded in the dream, there were aftereffects in the waking world.”
“Are you saying that two people who weren’t attracted to each other would be attracted to each other if they joined the same coven?”
“No. It would make them feel closer to each other, but it can only heighten what’s already there and break down inhibitions. It wouldn’t create feelings from nothing.”
“Are we bonded in a coven?”
“No. We can’t. Not even if you wanted to, because of the dark magic surrounding you. What we did was similar. It should have only affected us in the dream. The real-world side effects should dissipate. I just wanted to give you a heads up.”
“I see what you’re doing. You’re trying to give me an out. I don’t want an out. You said yourself that our connection ramp up what’s already there, but it can’t create it. I felt myself growing closer to you. I formed a friendship with you even though both Brad and Terrie were against it. Hell, Brad was jealous and practically accused me of hitting on you. You know what the last thing Terrie said to me when I dropped her off this afternoon was? She told me to have fun on my date. Whatever it is that we have was building up on its own, so don’t you dare try and say it isn’t real.”
“Ok. Wow. I want it to be real. I will shut up and let you do whatever you need to do, and I’ll be waiting here for your answer.”
“One more thing. On your witchy to-do list, right underneath curing David, write in removing black magic from Matt. Number three on that list, put research coven rituals.”
Eli’s eyes grew wide. “You really want to?”
“Yes. No doubt. As soon as possible.”
Their kiss deepened and Sky felt himself pressed back against the park bench. He held onto David to keep from falling backward over the bench. Sky ran one hand up David’s strong back and tangled his fingers into his long blond curls. Sky nearly whined in frustration when he felt David’s mouth leave his, but the whine quickly turned to a moan as David trailed kisses and licks along his jawline and down his neck. He felt almost as much as he heard David emit a low growl right near his ear.
“Down boy, maybe we should move this somewhere…” Sky’s words were cut short as David moved in for another kiss. Sky could have sworn that his boyfriend’s eyes were literally glowing in the growing darkness. Then, as David’s lips met his, Sky yelped in pain and surprise. He pushed himself away from David and brought his hand up to his mouth. “Dammit, David. You bit me! You actually drew blood. What the hell?” Sky looked up from the blood on his hand, and his eyes met David’s. Sky took a step back and tried to wrap his head around what he was seeing. Everything they had talked about was real. The worst-case scenario that neither of them wanted to believe was real. David was a werewolf!
David felt the pain of the change coming, but he tried to ignore it and keep kiss Skylar. Then he felt the sweet warmth of the blood in his mouth, and it drove the wolf inside of him crazy. He heard the words that Sky said to him and he understood them, but when he tried to respond all that came out was another growl. He met Skylar’s eyes, and he tried to plead with him for help. All David saw in Sky’s eyes in return was fear. David gave in to the change, dropped to his knees, and howled.
For just a minute, Sky thought he saw something in David’s eyes. He felt that his boyfriend was trying to reach out to him, despite what was happening. Sky was too frightened to think too hard on it. He knew he had to get out of there. David’s whole body was changing. His fingers were claws, his teeth were fangs, hair was sprouting everywhere. When David dropped to his knees, looked up at the moon, and howled, Sky turned and ran as fast as he could.
Brad heard what sounded like a howl, and then he saw movement on the trail coming from the lake. He was nervous and a little scared, but he got his camera ready. Sky Taylor came running down the trail and ran right past where Brad hid. No werewolf, just Skylar. Sky glanced back a few times leading Brad to consider the possibility that he was being chased. Brad thought about yelling out to Sky, but the other boy was already long gone. Brad stayed right where he was. Had Sky been with David tonight? Could David be in danger? Was David the werewolf? If David was in danger, Sky would have surely called for help and not just left him, right? These questions and more flooded Brad’s mind. He thought about going down to the lake to investigate, but he decided that the best thing for him to do was to stay right here and be ready to take more photographs. He said a silent prayer for both Sky and David, then settled in to wait for whatever may happen next.
“You have to be sure about this, Matt. I don’t think it can be undone once we bond.”
“I am sure.” Matt shrugged. “And we can’t do it yet, anyway, so we will both have time to think about it. I’m just asking you to look up the spells or rituals or whatever it is that we would need.”
“True. I will start the research on it and gather together anything I might need for the ritual.”
Matt looked thoughtful. “You might need me to do it in order for you to be strong enough to break the curse.”
Elias chewed on his lower lip and ran a hand through his unruly brown curls. “You might be right. When I figure out how to remove the curse, will you be willing to let me try on you first?”
“Absolutely. I know you won’t do anything to hurt me, so if you say it’s safe to try, then I’m willing to let you try on me.”
“That’s settled then.” Elias stared off into space for a minute, lost in his own thoughts. “You said that your grandfather told you all the stories. Did he ever mention having a witch ancestor? The curse doesn’t explain the fact that you have magic of your own. Your magic could explain the nightmares and my own dream. I bet you are descended from a Roxbury Coven witch.”
“We wouldn’t be related, would we?” Matt looked shocked.
Elias laughed. “Nope. Or so far back that it wouldn’t matter anyway.”
“Oh good.” Matt let out a huge sigh. “That would be weird.”
“What about David? Do you think he had magic, too?”
Eli’s brow furrowed. “I’ll cast the aura spell on him to be sure, but the dark magic probably corrupted any elemental magic that he had. Also, if… and for now I’ll still say if… if he’s a werewolf, the magic would be gone. From what I’ve read in the journals, you can’t be a werewolf and a witch, and you can’t cast both elemental and dark magic. The different magics won’t coexist in the same vessel.”
“But don’t I have both?”
“Yes, but they aren’t coexisting. They are at war. If you tried to cast an elemental spell, it would become corrupted with dark magic and you’d get a result that you weren’t expecting.”
“Thank you for sharing all this with me, Eli. If I hadn’t experienced it, I doubt that I’d believe one word you’re saying!”
Eli squeezed Matt’s hand. “I want to share it with you. I want to share everything with you. I do need to ask you a favor. It’s important. Please don’t take it the wrong way.”
“When you talk to Terrie,” Elias was still chewing on his bottom lip and he ran his hand through his hair again. “You can tell her… whatever. Tell her everything if you want, but just be careful. If you think she won’t believe you, or especially if you think she might think you’ve lost your mind, stop. Please don’t put yourself in danger.”
“Understood. I think… I hope to be able to share everything with her. I have deep feelings for both of you. I hope we can work something out that works for everyone. The last thing I want is to hurt either of you.”
“Come to me after you talk to her. I will listen and accept whatever it is you say. I promise you will never lose me no matter what.”
Matt lifted Eli’s hand to his mouth and kissed it. “I will come to you. I promise.” Matt glanced at his phone. “Oh wow. I can’t believe that we’ve been talking for almost three hours. It’s getting close to curfew, we’d better go. I guess this is goodnight since we live in opposite directions from here.”
Eli shook his head quickly. “No way. With what we know, I am not letting you walk home alone. No freakin’ way.”
“That’s sweet, but then how would you get home? You’d be twice as far from home if you left from my house instead of from here.”
“I’ll be fine. I just don’t want you…”
Matt cut him off. “If I can’t walk home alone, neither can you. Let me text Aunt Nancy and see if she can give you a ride.”
“No, wait. I’ll text Judy. I’ll tell her we’ve been at your house, and we lost track of time, and I don’t want to be caught out after curfew on the first night.”
“That works. We should be at my house before she gets there.”
After arrangements were made, Elias locked up his mother’s house and the two boys hurried down the street.
Juan Hernandez paced back and forth in his bedroom. Tears streamed from his eyes as he clutched a dozen roses, he bought for his new girlfriend, Kim Martinez. Her death hadn’t really sunk in yet. It just didn’t seem real. He still wanted to give her the flowers. Screw the curfew. He was going to leave the flowers on the spot where they say she died. What were the chances of that bear, or whatever it was, coming into town again? Tears still streaming down his face, Juan snuck out of his house and headed into the park.
“Hey, dad! We’re out of ice cream! Can we go to the store?” Johnny Hanson asked his father.
“No, Johnny. It’s almost eight. We’ll go get some tomorrow. Pick something else for dessert.” Ronnie Hanson told his son. Even as sheriff, he didn’t want to break his own curfew and cause problems for his deputies.
Johnny shook his head as he put on his sneakers. He wanted chocolate ice cream, not some other snack. He was the sheriff’s son. He was sure he wouldn’t get in any trouble for breaking curfew. Besides, the store was only a ten-minute walk through Lakeside Park. He’d be gone and back before his dad even noticed.
David tried to yell for Sky to run away, but all that came out was a howl. His mind fought for control of his body, and he looked around. Skylar was gone. He felt relief, but then all he felt was the pain of the transformation. David crawled away from the lake and into the deeper shadows hiding himself amongst the trees. Fear and excitement washed over him in alternating waves of emotion. Fear of the unknown. David still couldn’t remember what happened or what he may have done the previous two nights. Also, fear of what he may do on this night. Despite the fear, he also felt the excitement as power surged through his body and the primal instincts of the wolf began to take over.
As David’s body changed, his thoughts changed as well. AS hair sprouted out all over his body, he thought of the hunt. As his fingers lengthened into razor-sharp claws, he thought of devouring his prey. Finally, the pain was too great, and his human consciousness blacked out. His mouth and nose combined and grew into the snout and jaws of the wolf, fangs snapping and growling. His muscles expanded and ripped through his clothing. Remnants of his shirt still hung around his neck, and his jeans split at the seams up the sides of both legs. His massive paws ripped through his socks and sneakers, leaving the leather and cloth behind on the ground. Then the change was complete. The wolf sniffed the air and began to hunt.
Brad was beginning to think that everybody in town had lost their minds. Earlier, he had seen Sky running out of the park. He still had not seen any sign of anything, human or otherwise that may have been chasing him. Then, he saw Matt and Elias. He was surprised that Matt had spent so long at the witch house, but not nearly as surprised as he was when he noticed that the two boys were holding hands as they hurried through the park. Woah. He’d been right about the flirting after all. He just hoped that Terrie wouldn’t end up with a broken heart.
A short time later, Brad saw Juan Hernandez take off into the middle of the park carrying a handful of flowers, probably for Kim. That saddened Brad. Kim and Juan had just gotten together. Kim was such a nice girl. Brad thought something good finally happened for her, now she was dead. Brad lost sight of Juan when he turned a corner and went up another path towards where Kim had died. Brad thought about following him, but then he spotted a third person enter the park.
Brad cursed under his breath when he saw ten-year-old Johnny Hanson race into the park. What the devil was that boy doing out so close to curfew, and where was he headed in such a hurry? That would sure piss the sheriff off if he found out. Brad started to follow Johnny, hoping to catch up to the boy and escort him back home. Johnny was far ahead of him already. Johnny was about halfway through the park. It looked like he was heading straight for the convenience store. Then the boy stopped and looked around. Johnny left the path, heading into a wooded section of the park. Brad was worried now. What the hell was Johnny doing?
Matt still held onto Eli’s hand as they ran up the walkway to his front door. “We made it! They’re not here yet, and it’s still ten minutes before eight.”
Elias looked down at their joined hands and then back up at Matt. “This is starting to feel like a date again. I think I said that way back at my foster parent’s house when this night started.”
Matt let go of Eli’s hand, blushed, and then brushed a stray lock of hair out of his eyes. “It wasn’t a date, but it was more than a date. If that makes any sense?”
“It wouldn’t make sense to anyone else, but yeah it makes sense to me. We had quite a night.” Elias grinned.
“Is that them?” Matt pointed at a car that was approaching and slowing down.
“Yeah. That’s Mark’s car. Goodnight, Matt. Despite everything that is happening, I enjoyed spending time with you. I hope you’ll want to keep hanging out even after all this stuff is behind us.”
“I think that you’re being optimistic about our ability to put all this crazy stuff behind us and live to tell the tale.”
Elias reached up and cupped one hand to the side of Matt’s face. “I will not let anything happen to you, Matthew Montana. I promise you that.”
Matt leaned into Eli’s touch. “I believe you. I’ll text you tomorrow. Goodnight, Elias.”
The two boys parted, Elias rushing down the steps to get into his foster father’s car, and Matt going through the front door of his aunt’s house as the clock ticked to seven fifty-seven.
Nancy Holliday stretched and pushed away from her laptop. She suddenly realized how quiet the house was which was unusual with three teenage boys living there. She walked out of her office and started down the hallway just as the front door swung open. She glanced at her phone. Seven fifty-seven. Someone was cutting it close. She turned the corner and nearly ran into a grinning Matt. “It looks like someone had a good night. Cut it a bit close, didn’t you? I’m surprised the sheriff didn’t boot you out sooner.”
“Sheriff? Oh! No, I wasn’t out with Terrie. I was just out with a friend.”
“The grin on your face, I thought for sure you were out with your girl.”
Matt blushed and couldn’t stop his lips from curving up into a wide smile. “Nope. Just out with a friend. A guy friend, not even a girl at all.” His eyes sparkled.
Nancy looked at him quizzically. “If you say so. Just make sure no hearts get broken, including your own.”
Matt raised his hands defensively and smiled. “I’m behaving myself, Aunt Nancy. One hundred percent.”
Nancy shook her head and smiled at her nephew. “I have no reason not to believe you. Now, have you seen your brother or your cousin? The house seems awfully quiet for them to be home.”
Matt’s smile vanished in an instant. “Have you looked upstairs?”
“I just stepped out of my office when you came in the door. I’ll look down here, and you check upstairs. They might be home, it’s just quiet.”
Matt and Nancy searched the house, and when they both came up empty, they met in the living room. “Do you have any idea what their plans were tonight, Matt?” Nancy asked.
Matt sighed. “I left Brad at the library right after school, but he should have been done there hours ago. David is another story. He was intent on going out on a date with Sky tonight. Curfew or no curfew. He should have been responsible enough to either come home by now or text one of us, so we wouldn’t worry, though. I’ll try texting both of them right now and see where they are.”
“I’ll call the library and see if anyone is still there and ask what time Bradley left.”
Matt sat down on the couch and started sending out texts. He sent messages to David and Brad and, also, to Skylar in hopes that one or more of them would answer right away.
Nancy hung up the phone and looked over at Matt. “I talked to that nice boy, Nathan Burke, who works at the library. He remembered seeing Brad. He said Brad left the library at six-thirty. Where is he, Matt?”
“I don’t know. No one is answering the texts. I also sent one to Sky.”
“I’m worried. It’s not like either of them to not call if they’re going to be late. Especially with everything that’s going on.”
“Wait. I just got a text from Skylar.”
Sky: Sorry, Matt. He’s not with me.
Matt: Is he headed home?
Matt: What time did he leave?
Sky: I left him around 7.
Matt: Is something wrong, Sky? Why don’t you think he’s coming home?
Sky: Matt, it’s complicated. You’ll have to talk to him. I can’t say anything.
Matt: Is he ok, Sky?
Sky: It’s complicated, Matt. I… you’ll have to talk to him.
Matt slid his phone into his pocket. “David isn’t with Skylar. He’s not sure when he’ll be home.”
Nancy arched an eyebrow. “There’s more to it than that, Matthew. I can see it on your face.”
“That’s all I can say, Aunt Nancy. I can say with one hundred percent honesty that I do not know where either David or Brad are. I don’t know who else to call. It looks like we’re going to have to wait and hope they both come home soon.”
“You know more than you’re telling me, Matt. You have the same look in your eyes that your mother would get when she had a secret that she wouldn’t share with me. I’ll be in my office. If either of them or Skylar text you, come tell me immediately.” Nancy got up and left the room.
Matt leaned back and clicked on the tv. He mindlessly scrolled through the channels while he waited for a text message that he hoped would come soon.
Johnny was sprinting through the park when he saw something that stopped him dead in his tracks. Something big and hairy crossed the path about fifty yards ahead of him. Was it the bear they talked about on the news? The thing he saw ran on its two hind legs. Johnny didn’t think that bears did that. Weird. What in the world was it? He heard rustling and growling in the bushes off to his right and a bit ahead of him. He didn’t want to go past there or stay here out in the open, so he darted off the path to his left to hide in the bushes and wait.
Johnny crouched in the bushes for what seemed like forever. He knew the creature was out there… somewhere. Sweating profusely and paralyzed with fear, he tried to calm his tensed nerves. He knew he could not stay hidden forever, but the creature was out there lurking in the dark. He heard a rustle in the leaves behind him, very close by. He spun his head around and found himself face to face with a nightmare. Little Johnny Hanson was face to face with a werewolf. Fear gripped his body, and he could not move. The beast snarled and moved in closer.
Nate raised an eyebrow. “You will have to narrow that down a little bit.”
“Ok. What do you know about the Roxbury Falls alleged werewolf curse?”
“Not a lot. The stories go back over two hundred years. A young witch was murdered. A young Montana was blamed by the witches. The leaders of the town wouldn’t even put the Montana boy on trial, so the witches got justice the only way that they knew how. They cursed him and all his descendants. Supposedly, the eldest male in the family line is cursed to be a monster. They gave him a way out though. The curse would only affect him if he stayed in Roxbury Falls.”
Brad scowled and ran a hand through his hair. He took his glasses off, cleaned them, and put them back on. “With what you know about witches and werewolves, does that seem like a possibility?”
“Anything is possible if magic is real.” Nate said. “However, from everything I know, you have to be bitten by a werewolf to become one, even if you are cursed.”
Brad’s eyes grew wide, and Nate leaned in closer. “What is it? Has David been bitten? Was he attacked before the killings?”
“Could a werewolf take the form of an actual wolf or would it only look like a monster like I described before?”
“The books and movies and even the legends and myths all say different things. I guess it could, why?”
“David was bitten the night before Kim was killed. He said it was a big dog. Matt swore it was a wolf.”
Devon spoke up now, closing the book he was reading. “Are we seriously considering the possibility that my brother is dating a werewolf?”
Brad sighed. “I say that’s another conversation to table for later. We need to prove for sure what we’re dealing with before we jump to conclusions. If it is a werewolf, David is an obvious suspect. Now, Nate, if it is a werewolf, what do we do? Is there a cure? How would we kill it if we have to?”
“I don’t know anything about cures. I don’t know as much about witches and curses as I do about werewolves. As far as killing one, this is where every werewolf story agrees. Silver is the best way to kill a werewolf. Decapitation works, but silver bullets or silver tipped arrows are better, because you have the obvious advantage of killing from a distance. Also, wolfsbane will poison a werewolf and just the scent of it will keep them at bay.”
Devon chimed in. “All the Native American legends that I’ve been reading agree with what he just said about wolfsbane and silver. I googled some pics of what wolfsbane looks like and where we might find some. You know, just in case. I totally expect that the sheriff is right and it’s a seven-foot grizzly, but. hell, research is fun.” Devon laughed.
“What I saw wasn’t a bear. This is exactly why I came here and not directly to the sheriff, Dev. If I can’t convince you, I wouldn’t stand a chance with him. I need food and then I’m going to the park with my camera. I’ll text you tomorrow if I wanna come back to the library.”
“Do you need help taking all these books back before I go, Nate?” Devon asked.
“Nah., I got it. It’s a slow night and I’m here until we close at ten.” Nate said.
Devon got up from his seat. He took all the books he had been going through, put them into one stack, and turned to leave. He looked back and smirked. “You two boys behave after I leave.” Then he was gone, leaving Nathan and Brad alone in the research room.
“Are you taking off, too?” Nate asked Brad.
“Soon. I can help you put these books away first. We took a lot out.” He waved his hand at the table littered with books.
“I don’t mind. It was fun. I love talking about werewolves, and the possibilities that you brought up are equally frightening and exciting. “
“Just frightening if you ask me.” Brad chuckled then his face turned serious. “Did you really have a crush on me last year? I mean, I was a nerdy sophomore, and you were a popular senior. Why would you like me?”
Nate took a step closer to Brad with each word he said. “I did… err… I do have a crush on you.” Nate blushed. “You’re smart. You’re sweet. And you are incredibly gorgeous. Why wouldn’t I like you?” As Nate closed in, Brad took a shy step backward until his back was pressed up against the end of one of the bookshelves. Nate reached up with one hand and cupped it along the side of Brad’s neck. His eyes twinkled and he continued talking. “I wanted to ask you to Homecoming, but I found out that you had a boyfriend. Then, I heard you were single, and I was going to ask you to Prom, but I heard all kinds of crazy rumors and figured that you needed time. The breakup with Elias must have been… wait a minute.” Nate let go of Brad as he ran his fingers through his hair and started to pace. “The rumors were about your ex hanging out at the witch house, weren’t they? That house is connected to the witches that were supposed to have cursed your family. Do you think he’s involved in whatever is going on? Is he out to get your family?”
“Nice mood breaker, Nathan.” Brad laughed nervously. “I thought you were just about to kiss me.”
“Oh my, God. I was just about to kiss you! Did you want me to?” Nate sat back against one of the tables. “I’m an idiot and I’m easily distracted.”
“I did. I mean I do want you to kiss me. You missed your chance for tonight, though. It’s getting close to sunset. I was here longer than I expected to be already. I’ll grab some Burger King for dinner and bring it with me to the park. To answer your question, do I think Eli is out to get my family? No. He does know stuff about the curse that isn’t in these books. Matt is at Eli’s house right now. I think Elias truly wants to help us find out what is going on. Matt is handling that investigation, and I am here.”
“I’m glad you’re here and not with him.” Nate got a dreamy look in his eyes.
“Me too,” Brad smiled and blushed. Brad scribbled something down on a sheet of his notebook paper. “Here’s my number. Text me. You owe me a kiss.”
“Ok. I’ll text you, and I look forward to paying my debt.” Nate said smiling broadly.
Brad couldn’t stop smiling as he ran out of the library.
Skylar and David avoided the deeper conversations that they knew were needed, and instead, engaged in small talk as they ate their dinner. “How’s the job at Sonny’s going? A job like that and you probably don’t need a gym membership.” Sky quipped.
“You’re right! My upper body is sore every night. I need to find myself a hot boyfriend who likes to give massages.” David winked.
Sky smirked. “That could be arranged. I’ll swing by the mall and pick up some massage oils. I hear they have flavored ones.”
“That does sound interesting!”
“I’ll stock up on other supplies, too. Just in case. Flavored massage oils could lead us just about anywhere.”
“This massage idea keeps sounding better and better.” David said, pushing his empty plate into the center of the table.
Sky finished off his french fries and pushed his plate next to David’s, He sighed and stared into his boyfriend’s bright blue eyes. “Spill it. Talking about our favorite movies and planning erotic massages is fun and what we should be doing on a date, but I know there are deeper and darker things on your mind. Talk to me, Boo.”
“I…” David stopped and looked around the diner, then started talking again but in a softer voice. “I woke up the same way this morning as I did yesterday. The clothes, the sheets, my body… everything the same. Well, not everything. I wasn’t taking a nap this time. I wasn’t even home. I blacked out right after you left me at the park yesterday. You left, then I noticed Brad and Kevin in the park, then I woke up this morning. Kevin was the last person I saw, and he wound up dead.”
“David, I said it before, and I’ll say it again. I don’t think that you, in any form, could kill. Besides, you saw Brad with Kevin. Brad would have said something to the cops or to his mom if he saw a monster kill his best friend.”
“Ok. You’re probably right. But something happens to me, and it can’t be good with all that blood. I’m scared, Sky. Like really, really scared.”
“Come here.” Sky got up and walked around the table and pulled David into a hug. “Let’s go for a walk. It’s almost six-thirty already and the curfew is at eight.”
“Yeah. I find myself a boyfriend and the town imposes a curfew! Lucky me.” David laughed and the two boys walked out of Will’s Diner.
They walked through the park to the little bench by the lake. Sky leaned against the back of the bench and pulled David close. David leaned in and kissed Sky. “You have more faith in me than I have in myself. What did I ever do to deserve someone like you in my life, Mr. Taylor?”
“You are a good and kind person, David. Everything you’ve gone through, everything you’ve done for your brother, not many nineteen-year-olds would or even could have done that. Then that dick of an ex-boyfriend you had out in California ditched you when you needed support the most. Hell, you deserve someone even better than me.”
“There is no one better than you, Sky.” David said as his hands slid to Skylar’s hips and their mouths met in a passionate kiss.
Brad was still smiling as he walked out of Burger King with his dinner. Thoughts of his almost kiss with Nathan Burke was drowning out the thoughts of his task at hand. He had fantasized about Nate, but he never dreamed that the older boy would ever be interested. Then Brad met Elias and he’d forgotten everyone else for a while. Thinking about Eli got Brad remembering what he was in the park to do. Was Elias involved? If werewolves were real, didn’t that mean that witches probably were, too? Brad took his phone out of his pocket and considered calling Matt. Could his cousin be in danger from Elias? Eli had been totally focused on Matt ever since Matt got to town. Brad assumed it was a crush, but now he wondered. Brad shook his head. No. There was no way that he could believe that Eli was evil, even if he was a witch. Brad muted his phone and slid it back into the pocket of his jeans.
Brad threw his, now empty, Burger King bag into the trash and settled into his hiding place. He considered setting up close to the lake, but he didn’t want to be too far into the park just in case he needed a quick escape. Brad didn’t want to be an entre on the werewolf menu. He decided on a clump of trees from which he could keep an eye on both main trails, the one that led to the lake, and the one that led into the wooded portion of the park where both Kim and Kevin died. He unpacked his camera from his backpack, and checked and double-checked all the settings and batteries. He also got out a notebook and pen to take notes on anyone or anything that he observed in the park. He took a sip from his water bottle and settled in for what could be a long night.
Elias opened the door and stepped aside for Matt to enter the house. Matt was the first person, other than Eli, to enter “the witch house” in over sixteen years. He looked around. “It looks a lot nicer on the inside that’s for sure.”
Elias shrugged. “I spend a lot of time here. I’ve cleaned it up a bit. I didn’t touch the outside. I’d rather that people avoid it.”
“Is that why you didn’t repair the broken windows? Because the jerks would just throw more rocks through them? Wait a minute. How is it so warm in here? The windows are all smashed and it’s thirty degrees outside.”
Elias grinned. “Magic.”
Matt groaned. “No, I mean seriously. How can…”
Elias cut him off. “Come here.” Eli grabbed Matt’s hand and pulled him over to the closest window. Eli’s eyes were wide with excitement. “Put your hand out the window.”
Matt looked hesitant, but he did it. “Ok, but why…” His hand was barely outside and his eyes snapped open wide with shock and he pulled his hand back inside the house. He cautiously stuck his hand back outside again, and pulled it back in. “What is happening? How is this possible, Elias? There’s nothing here. This is so weird.” He kept sticking his hand back and forth through the broken window.
Elias shrugged. “I already told you. It’s magic. Like you said, if I fixed the windows, they would have broken them again. I wanted to spend time here, so I had to find lowkey ways of fixing things without making the repairs obvious to people that would want to destroy things again.”
“It’s amazing! How do you do it? Can you do other stuff?”
Elias concentrated and waved a hand towards the window. Matt felt a gust of cold air and he shivered. “Woah! Did you make that wind?”
“No. I released the spell protecting the window.” Elias raised his right hand, palm facing the window, took in a deep breath and released it. Matt saw a momentary flash of light in the window and then the cold and the wind were gone.
“You just sealed up the window again, didn’t you?” Matt asked with a touch of awe in his voice. “Can I see the rest of the house now?”
“Yes, I put the spell back in place. I’ll show you around, but I spend most of my time in this room, the kitchen, and one of the bedrooms. I sit in here and read the spell books and the journals. They sometimes describe small statuettes or totems or crystals that have magical properties. I’ve found a few in the house and brought them to this room. Maybe someday, if I find others with magic, I’ll rebuild the coven and fix up more of the house. For now, with just me, there’s no need.”
Matt glanced at the time on his phone. “It’s getting late anyway. We can save the rest of the house for my next visit.”
“Next visit? You… you want to come back?”
Matt grinned and blushed. “Of course. We are friends, right?”
“I wasn’t sure if all of this, or what I still have to tell you would scare you away.” Elias got a serious look on his face and motioned toward the window. “Now that you are more open to believing in magic, we need to talk. Do you want to sit down?” The two boys walked over to the kitchen table and sat on opposite sides, facing each other.
“What do you want to talk about first? I have lots of questions, but it sounded like you had something specific in mind.”
“I do. I’m trying to decide on how to bring it up without upsetting you. It involves you specifically, not the curse or your brother. It’s about you.”
Matt arched an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
Elias folded his hands in front of him on the table and sighed. Let me start with a question. When did you start having your nightmares?”
“I started having the nightmares right after the accident, but the wolf didn’t appear in them until it was a done deal that we were moving here, why?”
“To be clear, the wolf entered your nightmare while you were still in California? Right after David finalized the plans for the move?”
“It was the same night that we officially sold the house and bought the plane tickets. Like a week before we moved. What are you thinking, Eli? Is this bad?”
“I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but what it means is that the curse touched you before it touched your brother.”
“Why would it do that?”
“Maybe as a warning to stay away, and you didn’t listen.”
“I tried to convince David not to come, but he wouldn’t listen. Good things have happened for both of us here. We just have to stop the bad from happening.”
“It might be too late for that, but that’s why we are here right now.” Elias blushed. “There’s something else while we’re on the subject of dreams. I think I had a dream about you. Before I ever saw you. Before I knew who you were. Before I knew you were coming here.”
“What kind of dream? Was it a nightmare like mine?”
“No. It seemed like I was watching you from a distance. Well, I didn’t know it was you. I was watching some dark-haired cutie on a beach. I thought it was gonna be a different kind of dream.” Both boys blushed beet red. “Anyway, in my dream I watch you siting on a beach watching the sun set into the ocean. That was the first thing I noticed, because I’ve never been to the west coast before.”
“What night did you have the dream?”
“That was the night before we flew out. I remember that night. I did go to my favorite beach to watch one last sunset.”
“That makes it even stranger. I’ve never had visions or prophetic dreams before. In the dream, you were wearing tan board shorts and a blue tank top that perfectly matches your eyes. You had a skateboard with you, and it was on your left side. While you sat there, you wrote a name in the sand. I couldn’t see it clearly, but my best guess on the name is “Charlotte.” After the sun finished setting, you got up and walked past a food stand that had a red and white awning. Then it felt like you looked directly at me and said, “Help me. Please.” That’s when I woke up.”
When Elias finished telling about his dream, Matt could barely speak. He sat there for a minute, his eyes wide with wonder and wet with tears. “That wasn’t just a dream, Elias. That was exactly what I was wearing and what I did my last night in California. The name in the sand was Charlotte. She was my little sister. That was our favorite beach. I wanted to say goodbye to her one last time.” Matt reached up and wiped the tears from his eyes. “I never called out for help. That part was only in your dream. Maybe that was why you had it. So, you’d know to help me.”
“I’m so sorry, Matt. I didn’t intentionally intrude on such a private moment. I’ve never had a dream like that before. That’s why I couldn’t keep my eyes off of you that first day in the cafeteria. I knew that you were the boy from my dream, and there you were sitting in the school cafeteria next to my ex.”
“Is that why you’ve been so intent on helping me? The more you explain to me, the less I understand. Your family cursed mine. Shouldn’t we be like mortal enemies or something?”
Elias huffed out a laugh. “I’m helping you because you’re a super-hot skater boy.” He winked and stuck out his tongue. “No. Seriously, I’ve seen hate. I’ve lived with hate my entire life. You and David have done nothing wrong to me or anyone else. I reject the hate of my ancestors, and I choose kindness and love. Starting with this curse, I want to undo as much of the damage that witches have done over the years. Ghost mom is pissed, but I don’t care. She won’t even appear when I try to summon her now.” Elias shrugged.
“That was quite an impassioned speech. I believe you one hundred percent. Ghost mom should be proud of you, I sure am.” Matt smiled.
Elias chewed on his lower lip and looked like he was lost in thought before he finally looked directly into Matt’s eyes. “Feel free to say no, but I want to try something. I’ve read a lot about dreams and nightmares and dream magic ever since I saw that you were real. I think if we can form a mental connection, that I can share your nightmare with you. Maybe I can see something in it that you haven’t, because of your emotional connection to the events. Can we try?”
Matt scowled and thought for a minute. “I have a couple of questions first if that’s ok.”
“Anything, Matt. I want to be an open book to you. Ask your questions.”
“I hope that’s true. I do believe it is. You explained about your dream and that’s how you recognized me in the cafeteria, but how did you know exactly who I was, that I was a Montana, and how did you know that I had an older brother?”
“In the cafeteria, I only recognized you. I asked around about the new guy who was hanging out with Brad Holliday, and I found out that you were his cousin from California. The people I asked only knew that your name was Matt, not your last name. I put that together later, in the diner, when you walked past me, and I felt the dark slippery touch of the curse magic.” Elias shuddered at the memory. “Dark magic has a different feel to it than elemental magic.”
“Am I cursed, too? Will I become a wolf?”
“When I sensed the curse, I cast a spell to look at your aura.”
“You can do that? Will you look at David’s aura?”
“Matt. Please. Let me answer one question at a time.”
“Ok. Ok. I’m sorry. Continue.”
“Where was I? oh yeah. I cast the spell and looked at your aura. Matt, you are surrounded by the inky darkness of the curse, but it can not touch you. That is how I knew you must have an older brother. If you were the eldest, the darkness would have been inside you. That’s not all that I saw, though. You also have a bright glow emanating from the core of your being. It is a warm and comforting light. For now, it is being held inside of you by the dark curse magic. I think that if I can remove the curse, you may have access to that magic. Matt, I think that you are like me, a witch!”
“You think that I have magic? That I might be a with like you? Could the dark magic take over and still turn me into a werewolf?”
“I don’t think that the curse can touch you while your brother still lives. The curse is only designed to infect the eldest. As far as your other question, I think that you must have a witch ancestor. We have to remove the curse before you can even try to access that power. If the elemental magic touches the dark magic, it will become tainted and affect any spell that you were trying to cast.”
“Wow. I’m a little overwhelmed right now but thank you for answering all my questions. I think I’m ready for you to try the dream magic now. Oh wait, if you try to connect to my nightmare, you won’t be tainted by the dark magic, will you?”
“I’ve taken that into consideration. I am confident that I can bond with you and avoid the dark magic.”
Matt shrugged. “Let’s do this.”
Elias took a deep breath and laid his hands face up in the middle of the table. His cheeks tinged with blush. “Put your hands in mine, Matt.” Matt didn’t hesitate. He laid his hands on top of Eli’s and closed his eyes as Eli’s hands closed around his. Then Matt felt the world tumble on its axis, and he was in the car as it rolled over the embankment.
Matt found himself standing on top of the hill, staring down as an all too familiar scene played out below him. He started to scream out his sister’s name, and, for the first time ever, he felt a comforting hand on his arm and a soft voice in his ear. He looked and saw Elias standing next to him. “Eli? You’re here. We did it. Can you… can you help my family, Eli? Please.” Tears were streaming down Matt’s face as he looked pleadingly at Elias.
“Matt, I can’t. I’m so sorry. This has already happened. I can’t alter your past through a dream. We have to let your nightmare play out. I’m here to see if I can see anything about the wolf that you may have missed.”
“I had to ask.” Matt sobbed and leaned into Eli. Elias stood behind Matt and wrapped his arms tight around him for support. It felt good. It felt right. He rested his chin on Matt’s shoulder and whispered into his ear.
“Tell me if you see anything that you’ve never noticed before.”
Wrapped in the arms of Elias, Matt felt safe for the first time in six months. “I will. Thank you, Eli. This isn’t so scary with you here.” Matt let out a contented sigh. “Here comes the wolf.” Matt wanted to close his eyes against the scene that he’d already lived over and over again in his nightmare, but as with every other time, he could not. He watched as the wolf bit his brother and then opened its jaws wide and ate David whole. He started to scream, but he heard Eli’s soothing voice in his ear.
“Shh. It’s ok, Matt. I’m still right here. You’re safe. This isn’t real.”
“Elias? I’ve always screamed and woke up right then, but there’s something else happening. There’s more to my dream than I ever saw before.”
“Keep watching, Matt. This is what I hoped for. Something new.”
“Wait. Look. The wolf that bit David both in the backyard and here in the nightmare, the one standing right there with the bloody jaws, it’s silver and grey, right?”
“Yes. What do you see, Matt? What’s there that has you so worked up?”
“I was always too scared to notice before, plus I woke up, but look behind the grey werewolf. There’s another werewolf lying on the ground. The other wolf’s fur is a light brown, you could possibly even call it blond. I think my brother is a werewolf, Elias, but he isn’t the only one! There are two!”
Matt’s eyes snapped open, and he stood up quick. The force of his backward momentum pulled his hands out of Eli’s grasp. The kitchen chair matt was sitting in was knocked over and Matt lost his balance. His arms pinwheeled as he tried to regain his footing. Just as Matt crashed into the wall, Elias was there. Eli held Matt up by his armpits supporting him against the wall. Elias exerted enough force to allow Matt to regain his balance.
Matt leaned into Eli. “He’s a werewolf, Eli. My brother is a werewolf. I’ve lost so much. I can’t lose him, too!” Matt sobbed.
“You won’t lose him, Matt. I’ll fix this. If it’s the last thing I ever do, I will fix this. I promise you won’t lose your brother.”
“I’m so scared, Eli. I’ve never been so scared in my entire life.”
Eli’s arms tightened around Matt, holding him even closer. Elias whispered into Matt’s ear so close that he could feel Eli’s hot breath against his skin. Each word sent soothing vibrations throughout Matt’s entire body. “Don’t be afraid, Matt. I will make everything right. I will fix this. You’re safe now. You’ll always be safe with me.”
Matt got home to a quiet house. Neither David or Aunt Nancy were home from work yet. He threw his backpack on his bed and changed his clothes. After throwing his school clothes in his hamper, he went into the kitchen to grab some snacks. Doritos and Mountain Dew in hand, he collapsed onto the couch and fired up his Xbox. He decided to zone out with some mindless monster killing in Diablo III until it was time to go to Eli’s house.
When David got home from work, the only sound he heard in the house was coming from the living room. It sounded like either Matt or Brad or maybe both were playing Xbox. He kicked off his work boots, placing them by the kitchen door, and shuffled slowly down the hallway toward the sounds of the video game violence. David was exhausted, both physically and emotionally. “Thank God it’s Friday, little brother!” He said as he entered the living room and saw that Matt was the one playing Diablo III.
Matt paused his game. “Yeah, I’m glad the school week is over, but with the curfew, I probably won’t get to see Terrie tonight. We’ve hung out with groups of friends, but this was going to be our first big alone date.”
David nearly collapsed onto the couch and put his feet up onto the ottoman. “How come you’re not with her right now? The sheriff probably isn’t home yet. You could be over there getting in some of that alone time.” David winked and waggled his eyebrows at his brother.
Matt blushed. “You’re disgusting. Is that all you ever think about? We haven’t even had a real date yet. Maybe I should warn Skylar that he’s dating a perv!”
“Lighten up, little brother. Your mind went there pretty quick. You were thinking the same thing I was. Seriously, though, why aren’t you over there hanging out with your girl until this stupid curfew goes into effect? I’m meeting Sky as soon as I get showered and changed.”
“I can’t. I have something else I have to do first. I’d meet her afterwards, but I might not be done until close to eight.”
“Your loss. I’m meeting up with Skylar for sure. We haven’t gone on a real date yet either. No promises on me making it home before curfew.” He winked at Matt.
“The curfew sucks, but it’s not a joke, David. Two kids have died. Two people that I knew. One was Brad’s best friend, and the other one was close with Terrie.”
David sighed. “I know. I’m not downplaying what happened to them. Hell, Kim is the one who introduced me to Sky. I just need one good thing in my life right now. Skylar is a good thing.”
“I know what you mean, David. Things have been weird ever since we’ve been here, and I’m referring to more than just animal attacks in the park. You go be with Sky. I’ll take care of everything else.”
“Hey! I’m the big brother. I should be taking care of things, and you should be going out having fun.”
“You’ve taken care of everything for over four months. It’s my turn now.” Matt turned off his game and stood up. “It’s almost five o’clock. I gotta go meet Elias. Have fun with Sky, big brother.”
David’s brow furrowed. “Be careful, Matt. I’ll see you tonight.”
Matt grabbed his coat, said goodbye to his brother, and left the house.
David pondered his brother’s words after he left. What was Matt up to? Did he know what was happening with David, or was he talking about the deaths of his friends? Was Matt still having nightmares about wolves? David desperately needed to talk to Skylar and find out if he’d discovered anything new? Sky’s texts from last night said that he’d found some helpful information. Sky was upset that David hadn’t answered until this morning, but David knew that he’d understand when David told him about the second blackout. What was happening? Was everything connected? David sent a text to Sky telling him that he’d meet him at Will’s Diner at five-thirty, and then he got up and headed into the shower.
When Brad walked into the research room at the library, Devon Taylor waved him over to a table that was already piled high with books and old newspapers. Brad grinned and walked over to the table. “Wow. How did you get all this stuff setup already? Nice work!”
Devon smirked. “I had a study hall last period. I used senior privileges to escape early. I’m your junior editor, but I’m still a senior. Anyway, along with all this,” He waved a hand at all the research materials, “I have also bookmarked half a dozen or so websites. I’ll text you the links.”
“This is amazing, Dev. You remind me every day how thankful I am that I stole you away from the yearbook committee. If you don’t major in journalism, I’ll kick your ass myself.”
“None of that kinky talk, Holliday. You know I don’t swing that way. You’re thinking of my brother.” Devon winked at Brad.
Brad rolled his eyes. “Speaking of Skylar, he seems to be getting along rather well with my cousin. Has he said anything to you?”
“Has he said anything? He can’t stop talking about him! We may be related soon by the way he talks. Didn’t they just meet?”
“Don’t you believe in love at first sight, Dev?”
“Lust at first sight maybe.” Devon smirked.
“Well, David is a hottie for sure.”
“I am secure enough in my own sexuality to agree with you on that. My brother hit the jackpot on that one. David actually reminds me of Ross Lynch when Ross was blonde.”
“I wouldn’t put him in Ross Lynch’s category, but there is a resemblance. Your brother is a hottie, too, though. Anyway, are you finding anything over there?”
“I’m not sure exactly what I’m looking for. All you’ve told me is that we’re researching past animal attacks because of what happened to Kim and Kevin.”
“Yeah. And I want to know what animals that are indigenous to this area that could be big enough to do what was done to them.”
“Believe it or not, I’m finding way more animal attacks than I thought I’d find. Almost none in the last fifteen years, but before that there were more than there should be, especially against pets and livestock. The number of large predators that we have in this area just doesn’t account for the number of attacks.”
“You said that you’ve cross-referenced the reports with newspaper articles. Did any of them say if they pinpointed exactly what was doing the killing?”
“They’ve always assumed bears, because of the size of the tracks. They’ve never reported catching or killing a bear near town, though.” Devon laughed. “That fact has given rise to numerous whack job websites. Some of which mention your family and the infamous werewolf curse.”
Brad sighed. “What if… what if they’re not all whack jobs? What if there was some truth to it?”
“What’re you saying, Brad? You’re the facts and research king. Are you saying, now, that we should believe in supernatural curses and fantastical creatures?”
“What if someone that you trusted,” Brad stopped in mid-sentence, sighed, and started back up again. “What if I told you that I’d seen a werewolf with my own eyes?”
The loud thumping of falling books interrupted Devon before he could reply. Both boys turned to see the junior librarian, Nathan Burke, standing a few feet away with his mouth hanging open, his eyes wide.
Brad leaped to his feet and walked towards Nate. “I don’t know what you thought you heard, but,”
Nate cut him off with anear squeal. “You’ve seen a werewolf?! I knew they were real!”
Matt jammed his skateboard into his backpack and slung it over his shoulder on his way up the walkway to Eli’s house. He knocked on the door, and it was answered by a lady who looked to be about ten years older than Aunt Nancy, which put her around fifty years old. “Can I help you, young man?” The lady asked.
“Is Elias home?”
The lady scowled. “Are you a friend of Eli’s or one of those thugs who hurt him?”
“I’m… I guess, a friend? He is expecting me. My name is Matt.”
The lady looked at Matt suspiciously, but she let him inside. She turned and went about halfway up a staircase. “Eli! There’s someone at the door for you! He says his name is Matt!”
Elias appeared at the top of the staircase and looked down. “Really? Thanks, Judy. Tell him that I’ll be right down.”
The lady, now identified as Judy, came back down the stairs. “Elias will be down in a minute.” She peered over her eyeglasses at Matt, looking him up and down. “Do you two go to school together? He hasn’t mentioned any new friends or brought anyone home in a long time.” She got a sad look in her eyes.
Eli came running down the stairs and slid across the hardwood floor in his socks, coming to a stop right in front of Matt. He looked at his foster mother. “Thanks, Judy. This is Matt. We’re gonna hang out here for a little while and then go out.”
“Where,” Judy glanced from Elias to matt and back again. “Never mind. Just be safe, and make sure you are home before eight. The sheriff put a curfew on the town this morning.”
“We know. I’ll make sure we’re both home before the curfew.” Judy nodded and turned to walk deeper into the house. Elias turned to Matt. “I didn’t expect to see you until after six. Are you sure you want to be seen coming to my house?”
“I’ve decided that I don’t care. Everyone is going to make their own assumptions about me hanging out with you, and none of them care about the truth.”
“Sounds to me like you’re referring to assumptions that have already been made. Anything that I should be aware of?”
“You already know what Derrick said about the curse. And… Brad… he thinks… I don’t know. I guess he’s being a jealous ex-boyfriend.”
Elias arched one eyebrow. “What does he think? Does he think that I’m telling you about the curse to get into your pants?”
“I got the impression that he thought that I saved you from the bullies to get into yours.” Matt laughed.
Eli’s eyes grew wide and then a slow smile crept across his face. “Aren’t you dating Terrie Hanson? I thought you were straight, aren’t you?”
Matt smirked. “I told you he’s not being rational. He did apologize later. I helped you out of that situation, because it was the right thing to do, and I’m hanging out with you to talk about the curse.”
Elias looked thoughtful for a moment. “So, you’re just using me for my mind and not my body?”
Matt rolled his eyes. I’m not using you at all, Elias. I think underneath the loner exterior that you try to portray, there’s a genuinely good guy that I could be friends with.”
Elias got a faraway look in his eyes and frowned. “That may have been true once, but I’m not sure that it is anymore. Anyway, back to you, you have not answered my two questions. I bet you were hoping that I’d forget.”
Matt looked away from Elias and glanced toward the kitchen. “Are we going to stand in the hallway all night, or what? If you want answers, you’re going to have to feed me first!”
Elias clapped a hand onto Matt’s back and guided him toward the kitchen. “You know, this is starting to feel like a date, Mr. Montana.”
“You wish.” Matt laughed, but his cheeks tinged with blush.
“Yes, I do.” Eli grinned.
With leftover pizza, a bag of Doritos, and two bottles of Mountain Dew spread out on the table between them, Matt looked across the table at Eli. “This isn’t a date, Eli. I don’t want you to think that it might be. Above and beyond all the weird stuff, I do think that we could be friends, though.”
Eli smiled, but looked a little sad. “I know that, Matt, and thank you for saying that we could be friends. I’d like that. Friendship is very important, and I don’t have many. Well, I actually don’t have any, I guess. You seem to be gaining a lot of friends. Are you sure you need another one?”
“I have a lot of Brad’s friends. I don’t really feel like a part of that group. At least not yet. And, yes, I’m sure that I want you to be my friend.”
Eli grinned. “As your brand-new friend, I’d like to direct your attention to the fact that you are still avoiding my questions.”
Matt sighed. “You are relentless.”
Elias waggled his eyebrows. “These are very important questions that could affect the very foundation of our new friendship.”
Matt rolled his eyes dramatically. “Yes, I am dating Terrie. As far as the other question, what I will say is that I try not to label my own, or anyone else’s sexuality. Everyone is unique, and that’s the way it should be.”
“That is a very California answer.” Eli said with a smirk. “But, in your unlabeled sexuality, have you ever done anything with another boy?”
“No, I have not. There’s only been one other girl besides Terrie that I’ve even kissed. Not much to tell on that front with anyone.” Matt blushed.
“I’m basically in the same boat. Brad was the first, and only, boy that I’ve kissed. I thought we were on the verge of doing more, then he dumped me.”
“I may be out of line here, but I’ve answered two of your questions now. I’ve heard Brad’s side, what’s your version of events leading up to the breakup?”
Elias hung his head and sighed. After chewing on his lower lip for a minute, he looked up again. “I’m sure it will… mostly… line up with Brad’s story. I was new in town and I was getting bullied. This adorably cute boy named Brad asked me to be his friend, so I said yes. We hung out, a lot. Finally, I took a chance and kissed him. It was like fireworks in my brain, the best moment in my life up to that point. Things were good between us for a long time. Then I turned fifteen. On the night of my birthday, I had a nightmare. An older lady commanded me to go to the old house at the edge of town. When I woke up, I was compelled to go. I couldn’t stop myself. Inside the house, she appeared to me while I was awake, and she told me that she was the spirit of my mother.” Elias paused for a moment, then continued. “I won’t go into detail of what she told me right now. It’ll be easier to show you some stuff when we go to the house.”
“Ok. That makes sense.” Matt said.
“She showed me enough to make me believe that I was a witch like she claimed to be. I mean, how could I doubt it, she was a ghost. If ghosts can exist, why not witches? So, I kept going back to the house. It took time away from me and Brad, but I just couldn’t not go, and I couldn’t tell him. I knew he wouldn’t understand. Eventually, I was seen and the rumors started. Brad confronted me, and I told him that I couldn’t stop investigating my past. This was the only link that I’ve ever had to who I am. When I refused to stop going to the house, Bradley broke up with me. I thought he was my best friend. I thought he loved me, but to save face at school, he broke my heart. I did the only thing I could, I closed myself off from everyone, and I spent even more time than ever out at the house. When I wasn’t there, I was in my room here. I brought some of the witch’s journals and spell books here. Some of what I’ve read is amazing and some of it is scary.”
“Do you believe that it is real, Eli? So much is happening all around us. Is magic the cause? Is the curse real?”
Elias moved around the table and sat facing Matt, their knees touching. He grabbed both of Matt’s hands. “It is, Matt. Magic is real, and it’s amazing and exciting and terrifying all at the same time. I wanted so badly to share it with Brad, but he wouldn’t let me. Can I share it with you?”
Matt stared deep into Eli’s mahogany brown eyes. He saw excitement and fear, but most of all, he saw hope. “Yeah. Of course. Let’s go to your mom’s house. What’re friends for, right?” Matt smiled.
Now it was Eli’s turn to blush. “Right. Yeah. Let’s go!” He let go of one of Matt’s hands, but he still held the other one as he pulled Matt toward the door. He realized what he was doing and he let it go. He blushed even redder than he did before. “Oops. Sorry. Uh… grab your coat. I’ll tell Judy and Mark that we’re leaving.”
“No. I said what if.” Brad said quickly.
Nate studied Brad for a minute. “You’ve seen one. I can see it in your eyes. You’re not a convincing liar. Tell me exactly what you saw!” Nate’s bright green eyes were dancing with excitement.
“You’re both crazy. Werewolves aren’t real. What’s next? Vampires? Zombies? Mummies?” Devon huffed out a laugh.
“I… I can’t swear on a Bible that what I saw was a werewolf, but I can say that it absolutely was not a bear. The research we just did proves there are no animals that match the thing that I saw. Also, yes it was dark, but the thing stood on two legs and it was wearing clothes. I saw it attack Kevin. I swear to God!”
Devon shook his head. “I believe you saw something big, and I believe you were stressed and scared if you were right there when Kevin was killed. Let’s treat this like any other story and do our research. Nate, can you direct us to the books on werewolf legends? Not the Hollywood stuff, but like actual Native American legends and stuff like that.”
“Absolutely. If you don’t mind, I can help a lot. I have read every book, article, and clipping on werewolves that the library has, and more internet research than you can imagine.” Nate laughed nervously.
“Let’s get started then.” Brad said
Nate grinned and disappeared into the library.
When David got to Will’s Diner, Sky was already waiting for him. Sky walked over and greeted David with a hug. “Are you sure this is the place that you want to eat for our first date? There’s also Paulie’s Pasta Pavilion a couple streets over.”
“No. This is perfect. Kim worked here. She was the first non-family member that I met in town, and she introduced me to you. This can be like our own private memorial service to her. I want to honor her, Sky. I’m so scared that I may have been involved in what happened to both her and that boy.”
Sky took David’s hand and led him into the diner. “Boo, I honestly don’t think that you could ever hurt anyone. Not ever. Now, let’s go get something to eat and we can talk about what’s bothering you.”
“I’m sorry that I didn’t text you last night. I’ll explain why when I tell you everything else that has happened.” The two boys found a table furthest away from the counter, off in the corner by themselves.
Nate hurried back to the research table and dumped an armful of books out in front of Brad and Devon. These will be the most helpful to you. I brought some on witchcraft as well, because this is Roxbury Falls, if we have a werewolf it is most likely tied to the curse on the Montana family.” He raised an eyebrow at Brad.
Brad raised both hands in front of him like he was warding off an attack. “Hey, don’t look at me! I’m not a direct descendant. My mom’s sister married a Montana.”
They were sorting and stacking the books that Nate had brought them. Devon stopped flipping through the book on Sioux skin walker myths and looked over at the other two boys. “This can’t be real, can it? I mean even if there’s some sort of monster stalking the town, it can’t be David or Matt. It just can’t be. They’re so… nice. Hell, my big bro is dating David.”
“Really? I hadn’t heard that Sky had a new boyfriend. This David must be something special to attract him.” Nate blushed.
“How come you never hooked up with Sky? I thought you would. You were both single through your whole senior year. The two hottest gay guys in school, I thought for sure you’d go to prom together at least.”
“Just because we’re both gay doesn’t mean that we automatically like each other, Devon. Do you date every single girl you think is pretty?”
“I try, Nathan, I try.”
Nate shook his head. “And yet you’re single and hanging out at the library on a Friday night.”
“Whatever, dude!” Devon laughed.
“Besides, I had my eye on someone else last year. Sadly, he had a boyfriend.”
“Aww, that sucks. His loss. Who was it? I can’t think of many other gay guys in our school.”
Nate smirked but also blushed a deep scarlet. “You probably know him. He was a sophomore last year. I tried to woo him onto to yearbook committee to get to know him better, but he was too busy running the school newspaper. Then he started dating someone, and I knew I’d lost my chance.”
Brad’s mouth opened then closed three or four times, but no words came out. Finally, he found his voice. “I’m flattered and a little speechless. I… I’m not sure how to respond.”
Devon laughed out loud. “Well, that’s a first! Nate, you should confess your crushes more often. I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for two years to get him to shut up!”
Brad smiled. “Nate, we are definitely not done with this conversation, but it’s getting late. We have to get back to work on this research. You said you’ve read all of this and seen all the movies and all the tv shows. Tell me what you know about werewolves.”
Kevin looked confused. “What could they be hiding from us? Why would they hide anything? What do you think happened, Brad?”
“I’m not sure yet, Kevin. What I don’t understand is that if there is a murderer loose, then why wouldn’t they warn us? If there isn’t, then what are they hiding? Why hide the facts from the town?” Brad paced back and forth while he talked. He was talking more to himself than to Kevin. He always did that when he was trying to figure something out.
“Hey, did you hear that?” Kevin asked, staring into the trees, “I think I heard something, but it’s too dark. I can’t see what it was.”
Brad barely listened to Kevin. “Dark? Oh, wow, I didn’t even notice it was dark already. No, I didn’t hear anything, but let’s get out of here. There’s nothing to see except broken tree limbs and mangled bushes, and I’m getting hungry.” Brad and Kevin turned back up the trail and started out of the park.
Before the boys took even two steps up the trail, they heard a snarling noise from behind them. They turned around and saw a large figure jump out of the trees and onto the trail. They froze in their tracks in disbelief. The creature standing before them was like something out of a horror movie. It looked like a wolf, except for the fact that it was standing on two feet like a man and towered over both boys by at least a foot. As Brad grabbed Kevin’s arm and started to slowly back up, he noticed that the creature appeared to be wearing the tattered remains of human clothing. Brad’s mind raced. A million thoughts were going through his head as he tried to figure out exactly what was going on. This just wasn’t possible. He took another step backward, and the wolf followed. The wolf watched their every move and matched them step for step.
“Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” Kevin stuttered, breaking out of the trance he had been in. “We have to get out of here, Brad.” Kevin pulled away from Brad and turned to run. Brad saw the wolf start to leap forward and tried to pull Kevin off the trail and into the woods. Before he could, the wolf landed squarely on Kevin’s back pulling him out of Brad’s grasp. Brad lost his footing and fell backward into the bushes. He sat up slowly and looked back towards Kevin. The first thing he saw was the blood dripping from the wolf’s mouth. Kevin was no longer moving or even making any sounds. As Brad watched, the wolf bent its head down and took another bite out of the back of Kevin’s neck. Brad knew that the sound of the ripping flesh would be a sound that he would never forget. He turned and ran out of the park while the wolf was busy devouring his best friend.
By the time Brad got home, he was deciding whether or not to tell anyone what he had seen. No one would believe him, except maybe for Matt. The question was, would it only serve to upset Matt even more. Should Brad gather actual evidence first or tell his cousin that werewolves were real and not just in his dreams? He decided he had to gather proof first. That thing had to pay for killing Kevin, and he had to stop it before it could kill again. Brad had no idea how he was going to get proof, or how he was going to prevent something like what he had just seen without getting himself killed in the process. All he knew was that he had to do it. Brad went into the house and started to form a plan.
Matt was sitting on the couch, watching Netflix with Terrie and Aunt Nancy, when Brad walked into the house. Hearing his cousin fixing himself a late dinner in the kitchen, Matt got up to go talk to him.
Brad heard someone coming into the kitchen. He looked up from what he was doing and saw Matt. “Hey, Matt. What’s up? Is Terrie here?”
“Yeah. She is in the family room with Aunt Nancy. Where did you disappear to after school? Me, Justin, and Devon looked all over for you. We went to the batting cages to get some extra practice in before tomorrow’s big game against Castle Rock. We thought you’d want to come along, too.”
Brad looked away from his cousin. “I had some other things to do.” Matt was about to question Brad further about what he had been doing that afternoon when Terrie rushed into the room, talking on her cell phone. She didn’t say much on the phone, but the longer she listened, the more upset she became. She ran to Matt as soon as she hung up the phone.
Matt put his arms around her. “What’s wrong? Who was that?”
“It was Juan. Kim is dead! It was her body that the jogger found in the park this morning. Juan went over to her house this afternoon to see why she wasn’t at school today, and her parents told him. They said that a large animal, probably a bear, attacked her. That doesn’t make any sense. How could a bear get all the way through town and into the park without anyone seeing it? That has never happened before that I know of. Not in this town. I have never heard of anyone seeing a bear anywhere near town, never mind right inside Lakeside Park. How could this have happened?” Terrie sobbed onto Matt’s shoulder. “I need to go over to Juan’s house to make sure he’s okay. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No. Go ahead. Juan needs someone like you right now. Kim was your best friend. I’ll call you later to see how you are.” Matt walked a little way down the street with Terrie.
Alone again, Brad thought about the situation he found himself in. He wasn’t sure what he could do against a creature like a werewolf. Although he didn’t think anyone, except Matt, would take him seriously if he told them precisely what he had seen, Brad knew that he had to stop this creature before it killed again. He needed time to think. Brad left the kitchen and went upstairs to his room before Matt could come back inside.
Skylar slammed his phone down in frustration. Why wasn’t David answering his calls or texts? With everything going on, Sky was worried. He hoped that David was ok and hadn’t had another blackout. Sky considered going over to David’s house to check on him, but it was late. He decided to go to bed and try texting David again first thing in the morning.
When it was time for Matt to go to bed, he wondered why David wasn’t home. He tried texting his brother a couple time but got no response. At first, he was worried, but then a slow smile crept across his face. David must be busy with Skylar. Matt put thoughts of his brother out of his mind and went to bed.
The next morning Brad turned on the television and saw that they found Kevin’s body. The police released a statement saying that they believed a rogue man-eating bear was in the area and coming into the park at night to hunt. They imposed an eight o’clock curfew on the town until they could capture or kill the bear. Brad didn’t know if it was an actual werewolf or not that had killed Kevin, but the police were wrong. He knew it was not a bear. Brad wanted to go to the police and tell them what he had seen, but he needed hard evidence first. Without evidence, they would laugh at him or call him crazy. Brad loaded up his backpack with some notebooks, pencils, his camera, and a few snacks. Right after school, his first stop would be the library and then the park.
Matt wandered down to the kitchen and was surprised to find Brad not only dressed but completely ready for school and watching the news. “Wow. What time did you get up? I think your mom is gone early again, too.”
“She is. There was another attack in the park.” Brad turned to face his cousin, tears streaming down his face.
“Brad, what’s wrong? Who was it this time?”
“It was Kevin. Kevin is dead.”
Matt rushed over and wrapped his arms around his cousin. “I’m so sorry, Brad. I know he was your best friend. This is so horrible. What has it said on the news?”
Brad relayed to Matt what the police spokesperson said. Probable bear attacks. Eight o’clock curfew until further notice. Stay out of the park.
“Let me finish getting ready for school. We can talk more on the way if you want.” Matt rushed off and then returned fifteen minutes later, and the two boys left the house.
Brad and Matt barely got to the walkway leading to Terrie’s house before she rushed out of the house and ran up to Brad. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying, and she hugged Brad tight and sobbed onto his shoulder. “Why is this happening? First Kim and now Kevin!”
“It sucks. It makes no sense. Hopefully, your dad can figure out a solution quickly.” Brad said.
Terrie walked over to Matt and clutched his hand. The three friends walked the rest of the way to school in relative silence.
Matt groaned as he thought about going to chemistry class and seeing Elias. His first Friday in a new town and a new school and he couldn’t even be excited for the weekend. Two new friends were dead, and they also happened to be the best friends of his cousin and his girlfriend, a girlfriend that he should be taking out on a date on a Friday night. He shouldn’t be grieving over deaths and worrying about what weird thing that Elias would say next! What would he say today? Does Elias know what is happening in town? Just before Matt reached class, he heard a shout from around the corner. Curious, he went to see what the commotion was. Matt turned the corner and saw Elias on the floor and three boys standing over him. Elias’s nose was bleeding, and his left eye was already swelling shut.
“Hey, guys. What’s going on? Three against one doesn’t really look fair.”
One of the boys turned and glared at Matt. “Aren’t you Matt Montana? Your family was messed up in all that witch business back in the day. Maybe we should beat some answers out of you, too. Two kids are dead now, and it didn’t start until he started going into the witch house and then you showed up in town!”
Matt dropped his backpack and got ready to defend himself. Before the situation could escalate further, the chemistry teacher walked around the corner.
“What’s going on here?” Mr. Clark looked down at Elias. “Mr. Carrier, what happened to you?”
“I fell. Hard.”
“Are you sure that’s the story you want to stick with, Carrier?”
“Yeah. I fell.”
Mr. Clark turned to the three bullies. “You three get to class. Now! If I see you in the halls after the warning bell again, I’ll give you all detentions.” He looked down at Eli again. “Do you need to go to the nurse?”
Eli looked at the three older kids who were still lurking in the hallway behind the teacher. “Yeah. I should go to the nurse, Mr. Clark. Can Matt help me, so I don’t fall again on the way there?”
“Yes. Both of you are excused from class to go to the nurse. Stop by my office before you go home to get the homework assignment.”
“Thanks. We’ll see you after school.” Matt helped Eli to his feet, and they walked towards the nurse’s office.
“Why did you ask for me to go with you?” Matt asked as they turned the corner, leaving the teacher and the three bullies behind.
“To get you out of there. They might leave you alone if you’re not anywhere near me, but then again, they might not.”
“Which brings me to my next question, why didn’t you tell Mr. Clark what happened?”
“Because it would only make it worse. With two kids dead, things are probably going to heat up in this town. Warn the rest of your family. They’ll come for me first, but you all should be wary, too. Everything that goes wrong in this town, they blame the witches and the werewolf curse. Your family is tied up in all of that. You need to be careful.”
“Did you feel something again last night? Like you said that you did the night before? Do you really think the deaths are related to the curse, Eli?”
Eli sighed. “I can’t say for sure that the deaths relate to the curse, but I suspect they do. I feel the magic surrounding the curse getting stronger, and you are still having nightmares, right?”
Matt sighed. “Yeah, but I haven’t seen anything in real life to lead me to believe that anything from my dreams is coming true.” He stopped for a second. “Well, except for David getting bitten by what I know was a wolf.”
“It might be a coincidence, but it might not be. Come with me to my mom’s old house tonight. I want to show you some stuff.”
Matt rolled his eyes. “Come on, man. It’s Friday night. I want to take Terrie out on a date, not go to the witch house with you!”
“Do you want to find out about the curse and about your nightmares? My mom’s house is a lot more than just a haunted house.”
“Ok. Ok. After dark, though. Oh shit, what about the curfew?”
“It’s dark by five-thirty. Meet me at my foster parent’s house at five. I’ll text you the address. I’ll do my best to get you home before curfew.” He winked.
Matt left Elias at the door to the nurse’s office and hurried on to his next class.
Brad saw Matt walk into the cafeteria side by side with Elias, and he frowned. He was about to say something, but as the two boys approached, he noticed Eli’s black eye and Matt’s concerned look. Brad couldn’t help but sigh when Eli sat down at the lunch table right next to Matt. Matt raised a finger before Brad could speak.
“I know this isn’t ideal, but it is necessary.” Matt looked at Terrie for support.
Terrie reached over and held Matt’s hand. “What happened, babe?”
Matt turned to Elias. “It’s more your story to tell if you want.”
Eli’s emerald eyes narrowed, and he brushed the perpetually stray lock of curly brown hair back into place. He pointed at Brad. “He can probably figure it out anyway. It was Derrick and his goon squad. They’ve been mostly leaving me alone, but now, with everything that has been happening, of course they use it as an excuse to come after me again. I should show them just how much of a witch I really am.”
Matt placed a hand gently on Eli’s arm. “If you tried to fight back, it probably would have been worse. There wasn’t much you could have done. There were three of them. Hopefully, Mr. Clark will handle it. It’s Friday. Maybe things will calm down before Monday.”
Brad’s eyes darted from Matt’s hand on Eli’s arm to Terrie to Eli and back to Matt. “Elias, do you want me to talk to Derrick? Maybe if he knew other people were watching, he’d back off on his own.”
“Brad, I…” Elias stopped mid-sentence, his brow furrowed, and he got a sad look in his eyes. “No, Brad. Don’t bother. If you wanted to help me, you would have done it last year.” Elias’ gaze shifted to Matt. “Don’t forget about tonight. It’s important.”
“I’ll be there. Five o’clock. Maybe a little sooner.” Matt said.
Eli got up from the table. “I’m not hungry. I’m gonna go to class. I’ll see you tonight, Matt.”
“Do you want me to walk with you to class? Just in case?”
“No. I’ll be careful. I need to think. Enjoy your lunch.” Elias turned and left the cafeteria.
Brad looked at his cousin, one eyebrow raised. “You two seem chummy all of a sudden. You’re going over his house tonight?”
Matt chuckled nervously. “I’m meeting him at his house. We’re actually going to the old Carrier house.”
Terrie inhaled sharply. “You’re going to the witch house? Tonight? With everything that’s happened?”
Matt sighed, looking from his cousin to his girlfriend. “Come on, guys. If anyone should understand, it’s the two of you. I’m going because of everything that’s happening. I need answers.”
Brad sneered. “I need answers, too, but I’m going to the library, not a haunted house.”
“Elias knows stuff. I don’t know how he knows, but he does. He knew about my nightmares, and he knew that something happened when David got bit. I’m going with him tonight, and I don’t care if you approve or not.”
“I’m just worried about you, Matt. If you start hanging out with Eli, and if people see you going into the witch house with him, it might be you with the black eye next.”
“Derrick and his pals already threatened me, Brad. Elias got beat up because he’s connected to our family history. Maybe instead of abandoning him, maybe we should all stick together and watch each other’s backs.”
“Wow. That’s a low blow. I told you already that I regretted breaking up with him. He won’t let me back in, but I guess he’s got you now. Good luck with that, Matt.”
“Brad, come on. Be reasonable. I know you said you regret abandoning him. He may not be ready to be friends with you again, but he’s willing to hang out with all of us as a group/ Take that as a first step. Maybe you guys can talk. I don’t know. All I know is that he might have information that I need to help my brother. So, yes, I’m going with him to that house tonight. I also know that we all need to watch out for each other here at school. We’re all safer if we’re together.”
“He’s not hanging out with us, Matt. He’s hanging out with you.”
“Wait… what? Are you jealous? I… I’m with Terrie. I’m straight.”
“I know what I saw, Matt. I gotta go.” Brad got up and stalked away from the table and left the cafeteria.
Matt looked over at Terrie. “I… I don’t even know what to say to that.”
Terrie leaned over and gave Matt a kiss. “It’s been a rough couple of days, Matt. For all of us. I’m sure Brad didn’t mean everything he said. I’ll go talk to him.” She got up and left to go find Brad.
Matt now found himself sitting alone in the cafeteria. He looked around at mostly unfamiliar faces, not knowing which ones might be friends with Derrick, or which ones might be allies. He decided it was smartest to leave and head toward his next class. Matt dumped his mostly uneaten lunch into the trash and left the cafeteria.
Matt waited out in front of the school like he did almost every day. Usually he was waiting for Terrie, Brad, and Kevin. Today there would be no Kevin, and Matt knew that was at the heart of the drama that happened earlier. Everyone’s nerves were on edge because of the deaths of Kevin and Kim. Kevin had been Brad’s best friend, of course he’d be super sensitive about everything today. Matt kicked the dirt and wondered if his cousin would show up to walk home, or if he’d avoid Matt altogether. Matt knew that making friends with Elias may cause some tension, but he looked at it as unavoidable. Matt needed to know what Eli knew about the curse. That meant that Matt had to go to the witch house, no matter what. Brad would just have to accept that.
Matt looked up and nearly held his breath as he saw both Terrie and Brad walking toward him. Terrie held back and let Brad approach Matt alone. Brad kind of smirked and blushed. “Hey, cuz.”
“Hey. I wasn’t sure if you’d show up out here.”
“I was out of line. I started to realize that as soon as I walked away, but Terrie caught up to me and made sure to tell me how much of an idiot I was.”
“Nothing about this situation is ideal, Brad. I mean this doesn’t even feel like real life anymore. I do have to go to his house, though. We both know that. We have to know what is real and what is legend. He knows stuff that I’ve never told anyone, and we have to know if any of this is connected to Kim and Kevin. You agree with me, don’t you?”
“Yes. There’s more to what’s going on than what the police are telling us.” Brad glanced back at Terrie. “Your dad isn’t telling the town everything he knows.”
Terrie caught up to Brad and Matt. “He hasn’t told me anything different than his official statement, but, yes, I know my dad well enough to know that he’s hiding something.”
The three friends had been walking along the edge of the park, and they were now standing in front of the town library. “This is my stop.” Brad said, pointing at the library. “I do agree with you, Matt. We have to find out what’s happening to our friends, and the adults aren’t telling us. You go do things your way, and I’ll do things my way, research. I believe in facts, not legends and ghost stories. I am sorry that I got heated in the cafeteria. Hell, even if there was more between you and Elias than just the research, it’s not my business. Me and Eli have been over for a long time. He’s made that fact abundantly clear. Terrie might have an issue with it, but it’s none of my business, and I shouldn’t have accused you anyway. Can you accept my apology, cuz?”
Matt smiled, relieved. “Dude, there’s nothing to apologize for. With everything that’s going on, there’s bound to be tense moments for everyone. And there’s nothing going on with me and Elias.” matt rolled his eyes dramatically.
“That’s good to hear.” Terrie said with a smile.
“Ok. Cool. We’re good then?” Brad asked.
Matt pulled his cousin in for a hug. “We’re better than good. Dude, you’re practically my brother.”
Brad grinned and ran up the steps and into the library. Matt and Terrie clasped hands and continued walking toward Terrie’s house.
About halfway there, Terrie looked over at Matt. “I trust you. You know that, right? You can tell me anything.”
Matt pulled Terrie to a stop and turned to face her. “We’re a couple, aren’t we? Like officially a couple, not just hanging out?”
“Yes. Definitely. As long as that’s what you want.”
“It is what I want. I would never cheat on you, Terrie. Not with a girl or with a guy. I could never do that to anyone. If there’s ever a time that there’s somebody else, I’d talk to you first, but I don’t see that happening. I like you a lot, Terrie.”
“I like you a lot, too, Matt.” Terrie wrapped her arms around Matt’s neck and pressed her lips to his. His hands slid to her waist as he returned the kiss. When they finally had to part in order to breath, Terrie looked up into Matt’s sky-blue eyes, her lips swollen from the kiss and her eyes glazed over with desire. “I think I believe everything you just said, Mr. Montana. Now please finish walking me home. I have homework, and you have a date with Elias.”
“A date.” Matt scoffed. “Fat chance.” He reached out and took Terrie’s hand in his and walked her home.
Matt walked Terrie up to her front door and stopped. “When I get home from Eli’s, I’ll text you. It’s freaking Friday night. I want to take you out on a real date tonight, but with the thing with Eli and the stupid curfew, I don’t know if I’ll even be able to see you at all. It’s not like the daughter of the sheriff could sneak out.” He smirked.
“I am not sneaking out. My dad would totally freak if he caught me. We can FaceTime when you get home. Hopefully, whatever is happening is sorted out soon. For now, we can plan a Saturday afternoon date.”
Matt pulled Terrie close and stared down into her eyes. “That sounds like an amazing plan. I wish I could just stay here with you forever. I’d be the happiest guy on Earth.”
“You’re such a sweet talker, Matthew Montana.” She grinned up at him. “Go. get this over with. Find out what he knows. I’ll be waiting for your text.” She kissed him one more time, and then she turned and went into her house.