Ritual

Scarlett looked both ways before crossing the back road, clutching a large tome to her chest. Assured that there was no one coming that could spot her with their headlights, she scurried from the drainage ditch and across the road. She jumped down into the ditch on the other side. Her heavy backpack thumped against her back. It almost put her off balance, but she righted herself before clambering her way out and into the woods that ran along the ditch.

The moon was round and full so Scarlett was able to more-or-less see where she was going. She stepped lightly out of habit from sneaking around her house, but she wasn’t concerned with being caught in these woods. When a stick broke underfoot, it didn’t slow her down, although it sent some of the nocturnal wildlife scampering.

It took Scarlett about twenty minutes of traversing the woody terrain before she arrived at the edge of a meadow. It wasn’t a large clearing, but it was large enough for what she needed to do. The moon lit it up and showed off the tall grass that swayed in the gentle fall breeze. Fireflies danced just above the grass and a shadow of a bat zipping through the open area appeared every few seconds.

After a few moments of breathing the fresh air deep into herself, Scarlett broke the treeline and made her way to the center of the meadow. She knew she arrived when she found a small circle of grass cut to about ankle length. She had done it a few days prior in order to prepare for her ritual.

Scarlett slipped the backpack off her shoulders and it landed in the grass with a muffled thump. She set the tome that she had kept to her chest on top of her bag and then proceed to strip herself naked. With each article of clothing that came off, she took care to fold it before setting it on the grass next to her bag. Once all of her clothing was off, Scarlett took a moment to stretch out beneath the moon, soaking up its light.

With a satisfying pop emanating from her back, Scarlett went to work setting up her circle. She pulled black paint from her bag, along with a paint brush. They were nothing special, just run-of-the-mill home department store supplies. She set about painting a simple encircled pentagram in the circle of cut grass she was in. Scarlett had drawn the symbol often enough that it only took a moment. Satisfied with her handiwork, she replaced the paint and brush, unmindful of the mess it would make in her bag, and traded those tools for not-so-run-of-the-mill supplies.

From her bag, Scarlett drew forth a few grizzly items: a small goat skull that wasn’t completely cleaned of flesh, a pair of eyes from a toad that were still wet, a cat’s liver that was glistening with blood, a pair of snake fangs that had roots attached, the beak of a crow that had flesh and feathers attached, and a mason jar of blood. The jar of blood Scarlett set by her feet, but the other items she placed within the pentagram, each item going between two points of the star.

When she was happy with each item’s placement, she went once more to her bag and pulled out five black candles. The candles were bought specially from a shop and had different runes and languages carved in the wax. The carvings were of her own doing. Scarlett placed each candle on each point of the star where it met the circle. This only took a few seconds and, once she was done, she moved into the center of her pentagram, taking the mason jar of blood with her.

Standing in the center of the pentagram, blood in hand, Scarlett snapped her fingers and the candles flared to life with green fire. She unscrewed the mason jar and tossed the lid outside of the circle with little care for where it landed. Raising the jar above her head in two hands, she blocked out the moon with it and began chanting.

The language was guttural and ancient, rising from the back of Scarlett’s throat. It evoked images of dark and evil things, monsters that slithered through the dark, and nightmares that paralyzed. As the chant progressed, Scarlett’s voice became deeper and faster. It echoed through the meadow and sent all creatures fleeing from the origin.

In a violent movement, Scarlett dumped the jar of blood on her upturned face as her chanting cut to a stop. It was still warm as it flowed down her pale, naked body as if she had just exsanguinated her unsuspecting victim moments ago.

Scarlett could feel the blood spreading over her skin as the magic took hold. It moved in ways that shouldn’t be possible as it painted itself over every part of her. Nothing was out of reach of the living blood as it slipped into every crevice of Scarlett’s body until everything was red. It coated her like horrific armor before it seeped into her skin becoming part of her.

Once every last drop was gone from her skin like it had never been there, Scarlett opened her eyes and let out a contented sigh. She would get another year of youth before she would need to perform the ritual again. Other would probably think that the ritual was too much for only a year of youth, but Scarlett liked the hunt required by the preparation. Young girls went missing every day, after all.

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Dinner

Brad woke slowly, feeling like he was trapped in an oven. His head hurt like the morning after one of his fraternity’s parties. He also couldn’t remember what had happened, another morning after experience he was familiar with. The heat was beginning to become stifling, making it harder for him to breath. It also felt like all the blood was flooding into his forehead.

Becoming more aware, Brad let his eyes fall open and was greeted with darkness. He blinked and coughed, rubbing at his eyes to clear them. He became aware of his sluggish, heavy movements. He felt like the world had turned on end.

Trying again to see through the darkness, he blinked his eyes until they watered. As the tears dripped up to his forehead, Brad realized that his world had turned on end. Squinting through the dark, coughs racked his body in spasms of pain. A pressure pulled across his chest with each shift of his body and Brad recognized the darkness for what it really was: thick, dark smoke.

Like a dam breaking open, Brad realized the situation he was in, remembering the deer that had jumped out from the ditch by the road. He had swerved to avoid it, but had pulled too hard on the wheel and had braked at the wrong time.

He had flipped his car.

As Brad began to panic, he whipped his head from side-to-side, taking in more of his current situation. The reason he was seeing smoke and feeling like he was being slow cooked alive was that the car was on fire, somewhere. He couldn’t see the source of it, but he did catch glimpses of flashing orange through the smoke. Brad brought his chin to chest and made his arms move, fumbling to find the seat belt release.

When he found it, he pressed the button, but nothing happened. An empty click filled the air, joining the other sounds of popping metal and heat crackling. Brad jabbed at the button again only to receive the same nothing. He continued to click it, jamming his thumb repeatedly into the button with no luck.

“Help!” Brad called out as he began to pull and jerk on his seat belt. He thrashed his body about, ignoring the aches, desperate to remove himself from his position. “Help!”

The heat continued to rise and sweat beaded on his skin. It was becoming more and more flushed with each passing second. The air started searing his lungs and nostrils with each breath he pulled in.

“HELP!”

The popping sound of metal became more frequent and the plastic black smoke gushed around him. The heat only continued to rise, burning his lungs, throat, nose, and eyes as it did so. Brad closed his eyes and tried to hold his breath, taking small sips of air at a time to try to combat the burning pain. Unseen by him, his red skin began to blister.

The blisters started small but filled up quickly. The got bigger and bigger until they began popping, one-by-one. The dry, hot air evaporated the fluid from the blisters and any sweat he had left. Brad could feel areas of his skin begin to crack.

A meaty smell, not unlike pork, wafted through the air with a hint of singed hair and burnt plastic.

“HELP!”

It wasn’t until Brad heard a strange scratching, squeaking noise that he paused in his fruitless struggles. He opened his eyes enough to squint but couldn’t see anything through the smoke that had become a black wall. Seeing nothing, he closed his eyes again, hard enough to cause the wrinkles around them to crack from the hot, drying air. Thick blood that felt like it began coagulating the moment it hit the air inched down from the cracked skin, taken by gravity.

He continued to hear scratching, squeaking noises but chalked them up to noises coming from his burning car. It wasn’t until he felt a tug on his hair that he thought it might be something more.

Looking through tight eyes again, Brad saw movement below him. He risked opening his eyes a little wider and saw what looked like rats. He closed them just as quickly as he had opened them at the sight beneath him.

He had seen a few rats around the fraternity, but never as close as they were now. He also wasn’t the smartest frat brother but knew the rats below him didn’t look right. From his quick glimpse, he saw that they were thin with patchy hair and scabbed skin.

“Help!”

He felt more tugging at his hair and renewed his desperate, panicked struggles against the seat belt that was supposed to keep him safe but was instead keeping him trapped. The heat was sapping his strength and hanging upside down for so long was making him lose focus. Brad soon felt himself become too weak to struggle and lift his arms. The blood pooling in his head made him lethargic. Brad soon went as limp as a rag doll.

Feeling a tug on his hair again, Brad could do nothing as the tug became a weight. He could feel small claws scraping at his scalp. The squeaking became overwhelming, drowning out the other noises of the burning car.

“…help…”

The first bite to his head hurt, but he couldn’t even scream. The second bite hurt less, but that was just because he was losing consciousness. The third bite, Brad didn’t feel at all.

Accidental Summons

Hannah walked into her kitchen, a yawn pulling her mouth wide with arms over her head stretching her body long. When bones popped and muscles screamed, Hannah let her arms fall down to her sides and finished out her yawn. Her feet slapped against the linoleum floor as she strode to her fridge.

Pulling it open in a fluid motion, Hannah stuck her head inside and looked around, trying to find something to eat. She pulled open crispers and closed them with a snap, only to open them a moment later. It took a few minutes, but she decided on a bologna, provolone cheese, and mustard sandwich. She dug them from her fridge and shutting the off-white door with a pop. Hannah turned to face her counter and threw her accouterments onto it before grabbing the bread from the top of the fridge.

With exaggerated, heavy steps, Hannah walked towards her sandwich making items. Once she was in front of them, she reached up to the cupboards overhead and swung open the fake, dark wood of the door. Inside were a mishmash of dishes and cups. None appeared to come from a set and looked as if they had been collected from different places over years. Hannah grabbed a plate from the pile she had, a piece of microwave plastic with the Little Mermaid stamped in the middle. It was a plate that had seen better years. It was scratched, dented, and Ariel was missing half her face.

After studying the plate to make sure that was clean, Hannah placed it on the counter with a clank. She then closed the cupboard door with a loud thump and stretched her arm to open the next cupboard. An array of snacks were stuffed into the cupboard, but Hannah reached right for the ridged Ruffles without hesitation. She pulled the bag from its shelf and placed it with the rest of the food.

Satisfied with all her choices, Hannah set out to make her sandwich. Opening the bag of generic white bread, she reached beneath the butt to pull out two fresh, white pieces and flopped them onto Ariel’s face. She twisted the bag back up and twisted the twist tie to keep the bag shut. Next came the mustard, which she shook hard enough that it felt like her shoulder might pop. She made overlapping squiggly lines on the left piece of bread and drew a star, a circle, and smaller squiggles on the right piece of bread. Satisfied with her artwork, Hannah pulled out a piece of provolone and put it on the right piece before pulling out two pieces of bologna and folding them onto the left piece of bread. She grabbed the cheese side and, with more care than was strictly necessary, flipped it towards the bologna side to make her sandwich. Grabbing the chips, she pulled off the chip-clip and upturned the bag to dump out a healthy amount of chips. Happy with what she had, she dropped the bag back onto the counter.

Looking forward to digging into her beautiful sandwich and flavorful ridged chips, Hannah sidled down her counter for the finishing step. She pulled open her silverware drawer and drew a dull butter knife from the inside. Stepping back to her sandwich, Hannah drew the knife diagonally across her bread with mathematical precision to make two halves. In a theatrical display, she tossed the knife to the counter and scooped up her plate. She spun on the ball of her foot towards her small kitchen table in a mock pirouette. It was then that she noticed her visitor.

It was through sheer force of will that Hannah didn’t drop her plate in surprise and horror. Standing in her kitchen archway, the one she had walked through only minutes before, stood a large creature. It had to hunch over so as to not bang its head against the archway. Even larger wings that reminded Hannah of a bat’s, leathery and with the weird little finger-digits on the middle bend, were also crammed into the doorway. If she wanted to escape, she was going to have to go through a window.

The creature in front of her continued to stare at Hannah as she stared at it. The more she looked at it, the weirder and more horrifying the whole situation got. It had a huge deer skull with towering and tangled antlers where the head was supposed to be; a lanky body that appeared to be covered in dark red fur the glistened in a way she didn’t want to think too hard about; arms that were so long that the knuckles of its clawed hands rested against the floor; and legs that were reminiscent of a deer’s only turned backwards, although they still ended in hooves. Hannah thought there might have been tail as well, but wasn’t able to get a good look at it with the huge body in the way. All-in-all, she thought that the creature looked like a hellish satyr right out of the deepest bowels of Hell.

It took a step towards her.

A scream rose up in Hannah’s throat, but she managed to hold it in her throat, instead making a high-pitched humming sound. She closed her eyes and spun back to the counter. Trying to keep her cool, Hannah searched her thoughts to try and figure out what in the world she could do. The only thing that came to mind was her mother telling her she needed to offer guests something to eat. With nothing better coming to mind, Hannah banged open her dish cupboard and pulled out another cheap plastic plate, this one with a simple green design around the edge. With further thought, she also grabbed two mismatched cups; one tall red cup and one short blue cup. She took half of her sandwich and transferred it to the new plate, as well as about half of her chips.

As Hannah finished transferring half of her lunch to the other plate, she could feel the presence of the creature behind her and could hear low, rattling breathing. With great effort, she kept her shoulders relaxed and, scooping up the new plate, turned towards the creature. Hannah tried her best not to start as she turned to find the creature only inches away from her, but wasn’t convinced she was entirely successful.

Holding out the plate as an offering, Hannah held her breath and looked up into the creature’s face. She wasn’t even sure if the thing could eat, but it was better than the alternative breakdown she would have.

There were a tense few beats where the creature continued its rattling breathing, but with a slow, deliberate movement, the creature raised one of its freakish arms and took the plate from Hannah. It bent its head low to study the half sandwich and chips, its head tilting not unlike a dog’s.

“You can -” Hannah tried, but found her throat dry. She took a few desperate swallows to wet her throat. “You can sit at the table,” she choked out as she made a small gesture with her hand.

The creature moved its head in a way that Hannah thought it might be looking at her. It stood as still as a statue and Hannah thought that it might be processing what she said. It again looked to the plate in its clawed hands, but after a moment turned towards the table. Hannah wouldn’t say it walked to the table, but more like glided.

Once the creature pulled out one of the chairs, Hannah turned to the counter to grab the cups she had pulled out. She sidestepped to the sink and turned on the faucet, letting cold water flow into the sink. After a minute of checking the coldness with her finger, Hannah was satisfied with the temperature and filled up both cups with water. When the cups were topped off, Hannah tucked one cup between her arm and body while holding the other one, then scooped up her lunch plate from the counter. With only a little hesitation, she walked to her kitchen table. She placed her plate opposite the creature and set down the red cup by her, then reached across the table and set the blue cup as close to the creature as she dared. Pulling out her own chair, Hannah took a seat.

As Hannah sat down with jerky, nervous movements, she could feel the thing across from her watching. She settled herself down into her chair and brushed off imaginary crumbs from her lap. Sucking in a deep breath, Hannah looked up to take in her strange and horrifying guest.

Its huge deer skull head was facing straight ahead, right at her. It made no movements and appeared as if it was waiting for something. It was still in the way that cats get still when a light is suddenly flashed on them in the dark; still and waiting for something to happen. Hannah didn’t know what it could be waiting for but thought it best that she concerned herself with her sandwich before she thought too much about what was happening across from her.

Scooping up her sandwich half, Hannah brought it to her face and shoved the corner into her mouth. She took a large bite that caused her cheeks to puff out a bit and began to chew. Her eyes fluttered closed a the delicious simplicity of the bologna sandwich. She found herself even making satisfying mmphf noise.

The click of nails on hard plastic brought Hannah out of her reverie and she opened her eyes. Across from her, the creature had picked up his own sandwich half. It turned its hand over as if to study the sandwich before lifting it to its deer skull head. Hannah leaned forward in her seat a bit, interested in where the thing was going to put the sandwich. She watched as it slipped its clawed hand beneath the deer skull into the shadows that seemed to move there. After a moment, the creature pulled its hand out from the shadows. Hannah saw that a jagged chunk had been taken out of the sandwich, but couldn’t tell if the creature was or had chewed what it had taken. There was a span of silence before a short, soft growl came from the creature.

At the noise, Hannah sat back against her kitchen chair, blinking wide eyes. If the growling was related to animal growling, Hannah didn’t think that it was a bad or threatening growl. It sounded almost playful, like when a dog played tug-of-war.

The creature placed its hand back on the table with the uneaten parts of the sandwich still held between its claws. It went back to being still and watching Hannah.

Raising the uneaten parts of her sandwich back towards her mouth from where it rested on the kitchen table, Hannah had a thought. She brought the sandwich close to her open mouth, but then paused and focused her sights back on the creature.

It remained still for a few seconds before raising its hand towards its head but paused as it got close, going still once more.

Hannah kept her eyes on the creature as she brought the sandwich to her mouth and took a bite of it. She dropped her hand back down the table to rest as she chewed her bite. As her hand came to rest, the creature brought its sandwich to the shadows before letting a nearly empty hand fall back to rest on the table.

The strangeness of the situation was not lost on Hannah as she finished up chewing and swallowed. She reached out to pick up her red cup of water and took a swig of it before setting it down. She was going to make sure her throat worked before saying what she was about to say.

“You don’t have to wait for me to eat or drink,” said Hannah, gesturing to the plate and cup, “You can just do your own thing.” Hannah wasn’t sure that the creature understood what she was saying, but it seemed to understand what she said when she told it to take a seat so she was hopeful.

The creature remained still, processing again what was said. Hannah figured it understood English but thought maybe that it wasn’t exactly fluent in it.

As time ticked by, Hannah began to think that maybe it hadn’t actually understood what she said, but just as she was about to try and mime something out, the thing brought the sandwich to its deer skull’s shadow. The last of the sandwich disappeared and the creature reached for its blue cup. It too went to the shadows, but Hannah watched as the thing’s head tipped back to take a drink. She couldn’t see anything within the shadows so was curious about how it was eating and drinking, but thought it rude to ask. Her mother surely wouldn’t.

Hannah watched the creature begin to pick up chips with its claws one by one and remembered she still had her own unfinished plate. A little more relaxed and with a great gusto, Hannah began shoveling food into her mouth as if it was going to disappear. She knew her mother would yell at her, but figured that the Hell creature or whatever it was wouldn’t care that she “ate like a pig.”

Finishing up her sandwich and chips, Hannah topped it all off by chugging the rest of her water, tipping her head all the way back. She set the cup down on her table a little harder than she needed to, but it made her feel tough and she needed that feeling with the creature across from her.

Once she was done with everything, she saw that the creature had cleaned its plate and emptied its cup as well. She stood from her chair and picked up the dirty dishes. Hannah walked to her sink and dumped the dishes unceremoniously into it. It made a loud ruckus that made Hannah pull a face and turned around to apologize to the creature for the noise, but found the creature standing close to her again. The apology died before it was ever formed.

What…do…you…desire?” asked the creature as if it was a labor to speak the words, almost growling the words. Its voice was deep and raspy. It also had a strange echoing quality to it.

Hannah’s mouth was open in surprise, but she snapped it shut once she realized what she was doing. She began shaking her head and waving her hand, trying to find the words that escaped her in that moment.

What…do…you…desire?” asked the creature again as it stepped closer to her. It spread its wings a bit from its back. Doing so caused the kitchen to become dark as if a storm had just rolled in and caused the shadows to become long as if they were stretching towards the creature. The creature didn’t seem annoyed, but what did Hannah know about how creatures like the one in front of her expressed emotions.

“Nothing!” said Hannah, “I don’t want anything!” She swallowed hard, nervous again that she might insult the creature. “I just, ah, hope you enjoyed the sandwich?” Hannah didn’t mean for the sentence to become a question, but she couldn’t help it as her voice pitched upwards.

No…thing?”” asked the creature. Hannah thought it sounded dubious.

“Nothing! I don’t want anything,” said Hannah, trying to keep her voice level so she didn’t sound accusatory.

Nothing,” the creature said as it pulled its wings back into its body. It stood in front of Hannah, still as a statue, looking down at her. Hannah remained frozen in place. She thought that it might be thinking, taking in the fact that she didn’t want anything from it.

With slow, deliberate movements, the creature raised one arm and extended a clawed finger. It brought it up to point at Hannah. “Hannah,” the creature said, startling Hannah and causing her to blink rapidly. It brought the same clawed hand to its own chest, “Balal.”

“Uh-uhm,” stuttered Hannah, still shocked that the creature knew her name, “nice to meet you Balal. Thanks for joining me for lunch, I guess.” She forced a smile that was more showing her teeth than anything.

Balal growled and turned from Hannah. He walked back towards the kitchen archway, pausing as he came level with the table. Hannah watched as he twisted his clawed hand in the air in front of him in a way that made it seem like he was trying to snatch something out of the air. He moved his hand to the table and Hannah heard something clink against it. Balal then continued his gliding walk to the archway and when Hannah blinked, he was gone. A muted smell of sulfur was the only thing that was left.

With her mouth hanging open again, Hannah shook her head side-to-side in a slow motion, disbelief etched into every fiber of her being. Remembering the clink from Balal dropping something on her table, Hannah pushed away from the sink. Her mouth was still open and she was sure her mother would ask if she was trying to catch flies if her mother was here, but she couldn’t find the energy to close it all the way. Instead, she made her way to the table. As she got close, she could see something gold glittering on the table.

Pulling herself right up to the table’s edge, Hannah reached up and picked up the gold thing from the table. It was hefty in her hands and was crudely made. It was roundish and appeared to be handmade as she turned it over in her hands. Scratches and other imperfections marred its surface. One side of the coin was etched a gate and on the reverse side an etching that resembled a deer’s skull. Hannah couldn’t be sure as she wasn’t any kind of collector or historian, but she thought the coin was very old and very much solid gold. She closed her fist tight around it and exited the kitchen.

Hannah figured that the visit from Balal would be the end of the strange visits, but from time-to-time, a different creature would show up when she was making food in her kitchen. She was always startled at first but began to get used to the visits from the different hellish creatures. Some she only saw once, but most came multiple times. Balal came every few weeks. Anytime she was joined for a meal, the creatures always gave her something. It wasn’t always a physical item. Hannah thought there were magic gifts too as there were times when she had exceptionally good luck that she couldn’t really attribute to just good luck. It was like the creatures were looking out for her, in their own demonic ways. The way Hannah figured it, it was all thanks to an accidental summoning.

Book Review – The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue

When I picked up The Boy Who Drew Monsters, I did so on a whim. I had been walking around the bookstore for close to an hour before I passed by the shelf with this book. It had been facing cover out so it caught my eye as did the interesting title. Since my boyfriend was getting antsy, I picked it up, scanned the back, and made my purchase. It was a few days before I got around to reading it, but once I finished, I wish I had started right away.

The Boy Who Drew Monsters centers around Jack Peter, affectionately called “Jip” by his father. Jack Peter was diagnosed with Asperger’s at a young age and at the age of seven, nearly drowned and developed a phobia of the outside. Since then, he’s stayed indoors only leaving for various doctor’s appointments. The only consistent people in Jack Peter’s life were his father Tim, mother Holly, and best friend Nick.

The story takes place around Christmas time as Jack Peter picks up a new hobby of drawing. A lot of drawing. The perspective shifts between Jack Peter, his parents, and Nick. It becomes clear pretty quickly that Jack Peter is planning something, but due to his Asperger’s, he has trouble conveying it. I think Donohue does a good job portraying someone with Asperger’s. At no point does Jack Peter come across as overdone or as a caricature. The rest of the characters slowly spend the story figuring out the strange happenings around them.

Overall, the tone of the novel is creepy. The kind of deep-seeded creepy that causes nightmares and a fear of the dark. I can say this with confidence. I’m a glutton for reading horror stories right before I go to bed. I know I shouldn’t do it and my roommate yells at me for doing it all the time, but I can’t help myself. With this story, I did have to shift to reading the novel during the day. I found myself in a dark stairwell overthinking what kind of monster is going to be crawling up the stairs. Sounds of the house settling had me on edge. I even had to fall asleep with the TV on one night because the shadows and my overactive imagination was getting to me.

The writing itself is beautiful and vivid. The words read almost like poetry as they flow one line to another. It’s easy to imagine every scene that Donohue writes out. While his writing is a flourish, the actual words he uses are not. He doesn’t try to overload the reader with words grand vocabulary like he’d pulled words from a thesaurus. It’s all very easy to read so, for me, it didn’t break me from the story.

In the end, if you enjoy being a little scared and enjoy truly good writing, I would recommend The Boy Who Drew Monsters to you. The story builds to one of the greatest endings to a book I’ve ever read. It holds a twist that I haven’t experienced since reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. This might be a little overdramatic, but I feel as if it was life-altering and I don’t think I’m going to be able to function on full for a couple of days. I’m shook and I think I’ll be shook anytime I think about this novel. It’s an easy 5 out of 5 stars for me.

The Red Dragon Chronicles: The Frost Tree

Dintir stood just behind the edge of a clearing, hiding in the shadows that the trees and snow cast. He watched as the elven children ran through the clearing, playing a game of it. For the most part, they were graceful and agile, quick and light on their feet. They ghosted atop the snow that lay on the ground, leaving only the lightest of impressions. There was one though who plowed through the snow, kicking it up with every step. Despite this, it didn’t slow her down and she moved through the snow that came to mid-shin with ease. Her fiery red hair made her stick out in stark contrast compared to the snowy landscape. She even stood out amongst her light-haired companions.

As he continued to watch the children play, the red-haired girl became it and her companions scattered. The girl moved with determination. The snow at her feet was kicked higher and further as she struggled to touch one of her nimble companions. Every time she came within touching distance of one of the other children, he or she would dance off with wild laughter. Undeterred by her obvious disadvantage against her fleet-footed friends, she continued chasing them, making quick direction changes in an effort to catch one of the others unaware and by surprise.

Behind Dintir came soft footfalls that most others wouldn’t have heard. It was the light puff of air being pushed out of the way with each step and the almost imperceptible noise of feathery snow crunching that gave Dintir’s new guest away. He turned from his observations to take in his visitor.

“Turano,” Dintir said in greeting with a small bow. No more than a tilt of the head, really. He returned to his observations, shifting on his feet and crossing his arms behind his back.

“Dintir,” said Turano in return as he stepped up to stand next to Dintir, mirroring his pose.

“What brings you out here?” Dintir inquired as he watched the children begin to climb a Frost tree that stood within the clearing. It was a dead, white tree that grew nothing upon its branches except the occasional icicle. It was a tree that was good for nothing but climbing. It had been something alive once, probably, before the neverending snow came from the far north to settle on Moorwood’s northern lands permanently. Only the oldest of them remembered what the lands were like before, but they were few and Dintir wasn’t one of them.

Turano remained quiet as if rolling the question around his mind. He too observed the children that ran amongst the field. The red-haired girl was still it but showed no signs of tiring or slowing down. That laughter from the others was raucous, but not in any way mean-spirited.

“She seems to be doing well,” said Turano without specifying who he was talking about. He didn’t need to.

Dintir watched as the first elven child began his ascent of the Frost tree, placing each foot without much thought as the climb came naturally to him. A second child soon joined the first, hot on his heels.

“She’s not as agile as the others,” remarked Dintir as watched more of the elven children catch on to what was happening and joined the others in the tree, leaving the red-haired girl on the ground.

“No, but she’s more nimble than humans,” said Turano as the red-haired girl jumped up to grab the lowest branch and began her own climb, demonstrating that she was indeed more nimble than the average human.

“She’s beginning to realize that she’s not like the rest of us,” said Dintir as he watched the girl climb from branch to branch with more care than the other children, more thought put into each foot placement than her counterparts.

“She wouldn’t have remained unaware forever, Dintir,” said Turano as the red-haired girl jumped from branch to hang from another, pulling herself up with ease to sit on the new branch. She sat only long enough to get her bearings before twisting up to her feet and gazing at the other children who, for the most part, were in the top most regions of the tree, still well over her head.

“It’s not that she’s unaware of what she is, I just don’t think she realized what her differences were since we tried so hard not to treat her any differently,” said Dintir, his eyes and harsh lines of his face softening for a moment.

“It is at this time that the children begin to develop physically. Soon most of them will begin training and won’t be children any longer,” said Turano, his own eyes and features softening as he took in the next generation of elves. The small number was disheartening, but the childbearing years of elves were few and many had perished in the last war or didn’t wish to bring children into such trying times. It was only to be expected. Not all would become warriors, but most would.

“She’s ahead of them, physically. She’s already bigger than many of the boys,” remarked Dintir, watching the last elven child climb the last few branches to join his friends. The red-haired girl wasn’t far behind him.

“Being half-human will give her stronger physical features than the full elven children and will put her at a physical advantage,” said Turano as he watched the last elven child begin to teeter on the branch he was standing on, his arms pinwheeling. “It might not seem like it now, and some of the adults in the village might not act like it, but your daughter will have the best traits of both races. Wait and see. She’ll surprise many of us.”

The pinwheeling elven child overbalanced himself and pitched backwards off of the branch he was standing on. The two adult elves watched his quick descent, unconcerned. The other elven children could be heard with high pitched chitters like baby birds as the elven boy tried to catch himself. It wasn’t until a sickening crunch of the boy’s skull meeting the petrified, frozen wood of the Frost tree and was knocked unconscious that the adults sprung into action, the danger of injury becoming very real for the boy.

Dintir and Turano crossed the clearing in a few fleet-footed bounds, leaving imperceptible tracks in the snow, despite being larger than the children. They rushed beneath the Frost tree, ready to catch the unconscious elven boy, but when they looked up to see where he was at in his descent, they were surprised to see him floating amongst the branches. Once their momentary surprise had vanished, they notice the red-haired girl hanging from the branch that she had been on when the boy had fallen. One hand was grasped tightly around the branch and the other was white-knuckled around the wrist of the boy. They swayed gently back-and-forth with the light breeze passing through the clearing.

“Hi adda,” said the red-haired girl as she hung from the branch with the boy in her grasp. She had a small, nervous smile on her freckled face.

“Hi Sarys,” said Dintir as he stepped closer to the lowest tree branch and put a hand on it, getting ready to pull himself up. “Do you think you can continue to hold Lazdir?”

Sarys nodded and exclaimed, “he’s lighter than a leaf!”

Dintir heard a few nervous giggles from the elven children at the top of the tree. They had frozen in place and made no movements, afraid of distracting Sarys or causing her to drop Lazdir.

With little effort, Dintir made his way up the Frost tree, weaving, stepping, and jumping as the elven children had, with little thought. The pathway he needed to take to reach Sarys and Lazdir already laid out before his eyes. He could feel the children watch him in awe as reached his goal in only a couple of seconds, a feat that had taken them much longer.

Dintir reached out and grabbed Lazdir, draping him over his shoulder. He reached out to Sarys who had remained hanging. She swung towards him and let go of the branch as she was brought close to her father. With little guidance, Dintir helped Sarys land on the branch he was on. He placed his hand again her cold, pale cheek.

“Good job, little one,” Dintir said as Sarys pressed her cheek into her father’s palm harder. He moved his hand away and began his climb down, quicker even than his climb up.

When Dintir reached the ground, he passed Lazdir to Turano to look over, the elf being a master in healing magic. Turano placed the elf child on the ground and passed faintly glowing green hands over his head, murmuring spell words in elvish under his breath. Dintir knew Turano didn’t need to speak allowed spell words anymore but also knew it was a habit.

While Turano took care of Lazdir, Dintir looked back up the Frost tree and reached up to grab Sarys just as she was coming down. He grasped her waist and heard her giggle as he placed her upon the ground. He looked back up into the tree and saw the other elven children had begun to climb down, this time taking their steps carefully so as not to fall like Lazdir had. As they reached the lowest branches, Dintir reached up to each of them as well and placed them safely upon the ground. They spoke in hushed whispers and watched Turano work on Lazdir.

When the last child had both feet on the ground, Dintir moved next to Turano and squatted down. Turano’s hands were steady, one on either side of Lazdir’s head and glowing green.

“Will he be alright?” asked Dintir, unworried about breaking Turano’s concentration.

Turano nodded and broke off his spell casting. He sat back on his haunches, hands on his thighs, and replied, “just a bumped head. I don’t sense any brain swelling. He’ll feel it for a couple days though.”

Turano scooped up Lazdir in his arms and held him against his chest before standing tall. Dintir followed Turano’s movement to stand as well. He turned to face the children, his daughter amongst them, standing above the rest with her fiery red hair swept about her face.

“Alright children,” said Dintir as he and Turano began walking back towards the edge of the clearing from where they came from, “I think that’s enough play for today. It’s time to head back to the village.”

The children, assured that their friend would be alright, swarmed around the two older elves, their bird-like chittering picking up again. Dintir watched as red hair ran to the front of the pack to lead them all home.

School for the Gifted

Present Day

Laura stood with her son, Damien, in front of Penobscot County School for the Gifted. She looked down at her son who was staring at the entry doors to the new school. She shook his hand with reassurance, causing him to look up into her face.

“It’ll be alright,” she said in a soft coo. She looked back up to the name stamped over the entryway. “I’m sure you’ll make lots of new friends.”

Damien gave a mighty sigh for an eight-year-old as Laura made her way to the doors. Her arm was pulled backward as Damien trailed behind her, feet dragging and reluctant. She reached the nearest door and pulled it open, ushering Damien ahead of her with a hand on his head and a light push.

The entry hall they entered was deserted as class had started a half hour prior. At the end of the hallway stood a glass office with the word Administration stamped over it. Laura kept Damien out in front of her as the made their way to the office. With each step they took on the faux marble floor, a faint echo could be heard bouncing off the walls and around the high vaulted ceilings. It felt as if the hallway would go on forever. Laura swore that the office was moving further and further away, the hallway stretching out for an eternity.

Damien was muttering under his breath and Laura flicked him on the back of the head. Damien whipped his head around to face her, his eyes squinted and face pinched up. He raised his hand to rub the spot Laura flicked.

“Don’t be like that,” scolded Laura as she placed her hand on Damien’s head and swiveled his head around to face front. “We’re going in there whether you like it or not.”

Damien stopped his muttering and when Laura looked up, they were standing in front of one set of doors for the office. Laura reached out and pulled it open, ushering Damien in. A long counter that took up the majority of the length of the room was in front of her with seats to her right. Laura sat Damien down in the nearest seat before stepping up to the counter where an old woman was sitting, typing away at a computer.

Laura cleared her throat to get the woman’s attention and raised her hand in greeting when the woman paused in her typing to look at Laura over the rim of her glasses. The women pulled back from the computer and crossed her thin, wrinkled hands over one another on the lower counter that acted as her workstation.

“May I help you?” the old crone asked, her voice drier than the ancient pyramids.

Laura attempted to swallow, but her throat only clicked. The severe look of the woman, with her horn-rimmed glasses and tight ballerina’s bun that looked like it was the only thing keeping her face from collapsing in on itself, made Laura feel as if she was in trouble.

“Uh, yes, uhm, hello—”

“That’s enough stuttering. Speak clearly,” said the woman as her hawkish eyes seemed to zero in on Laura.

“Yes! Sorry!” said Laura, straightening up and squaring her shoulders. “My name is Laura Morning and I’m here with my son, Damien Morning. He’s supposed to begin school today.”

“Ah, yes,” said the crone as she turned back to tap away at her computer, “Damien Morning, our new transfer.”

Two Weeks Earlier

Laura pushed through the entry doors and fought her way through the crush of student walkers flooding from King Elementary School. Kids as young as kindergarteners and as old as sixth graders bumped into her and flowed around her. A few of the larger fifth and sixth graders bumped into her shoulder hard enough to smart, but Laura pushed on. As she made her way further into the school, the crush began to eb until it was a trickle of kids and she could take a breath. She made her way to the end of the entry hallway and cut a left, then an immediate right to find herself standing in front of the administrative offices. She pushed her way through the double set of doors and was greeted by Mrs. Summers.

“Oh good, you’re here!” she said as she came out from behind the counter, using a door the separated the front office from the back. She held the door open and gestured Laura through. “He’s in the principal’s office,” she said, following behind Laura who’d been to the principal’s office plenty of times and knew the path like the back of her hand.

As Laura approached the principal’s door, she felt a hand grab onto her bicep and she halted in her march. She turned to look at Mrs. Summers.

“It’s not good, Laura,” said Mrs. Summers, her voice sympathetic and her face turning sad. “The superintendent is in there as well. I don’t think you’re going to be able to talk yourself out of this one.”

Laura cursed and turned her head towards the principal’s door. The principal and superintendent had it in for Damien, always had. She turned back to Mrs. Summers who had let go of her arm, her face still sad.

“Thank you for the warning, Mrs. Summers,” said Laura as she reached out to the older woman and grabbed Mrs. Summers’ hand. Laura gave it a squeeze and managed a weak smile, Mrs. Summers smiling back with a tint of sadness. Laura dropped her hand and turned to face the principal’s door again, striding up to it and giving a few curt knocks.

“Come in!” came the reply from the other side. It wasn’t the principal’s voice.

Laura pushed through the door and scanned for her son, spotting him in one of the high backed chairs in front of the principal’s desk. She stepped to him and went to a knee, grabbing Damien’s hands. His head hung down and his hair blocked most of his face. She reached for his hands that were on his knees and gave them a gentle squeeze of reassurance.

“You okay?” she asked, trying to look at his face. Damien didn’t look at her but only nodded once, a jerk of the chin.

A throat was cleared and Laura stood up to face the two men who were on the other side of the desk. One was standing and one was sitting opposite Damien. The one who was sitting stood up and reached his hand over his desk, holding his tie in one hand to prevent it from swinging out.

“Ms. Morning, glad you could join us,” said the principal, his hand out for a handshake. Laura eyed the hand and waited a few beats, just enough to make the principal clear his throat again in awkwardness. Just as he was about to pull his hand back, Laura reached out to shake it.

“Mr. Delacroix,” she said, eyes drilling into the principal’s beady ones. She gave a firm up-down before turning her attention to the other man, the superintendent. She held her arm and hand out towards him. “Dr. Loomis.” The superintendent reached out to give Laura a quick shake before pulling back.

“Well, Ms. Morning—”

“Laura.”

“Excuse me?”

“Laura, call me Laura. Ms. Morning is my mother.”

“Ah well, yes. Then, Laura, I presume Mrs. Summers informed you over the phone call why you were called in today?” asked Mr. Delacroix as he retook his seat and gestured for Laura to take a seat as well in the second chair.

Laura sat down and glanced at Damien who still sat with his head down, hair in front of his face.

“Yes, Mrs. Summers did let me know that there was another incident with Damien in the classroom today,” said Laura, sweeping at a vomit stain in her nursing scrubs. She needed a new pair.

Present

“If you could follow me, please,” said the crone as she emerged from the door that separated the front and back office. She stepped through a set of double doors into the hallway and held it open for Laura and Damien.

As soon as Laura and Damien were through the doors, the crone turned on her heel and began her march down the hallway, through the school. “My name is Mrs. Baylock. I’ll give you a tour of the school before we take Damien to his new classroom.”

Laura held Damien’s hand as they followed behind Mrs. Baylock. She moved like a woman on a mission, head held high, shoulders back and straight, and each footfall a sharp click of the heels.

“This is the elementary wing which holds kindergarten through sixth grade. I will guide you and Damien through this wing before dropping off Damien,” said Mrs. Baylock as she turned her head to look over her sharp-angled shoulder. “If you would like a further tour of the high school wing which holds seventh grade through senior class after we drop Damien off, Ms. Morning, I would be happy to do so.”

Before Laura could reply, they entered a hallway filled with classroom doors and lockers, and Mrs. Baylock began speaking again.

“As you can see, every student will have an assigned locker in the hallways. This is because here at Penobscot County School for the Gifted the children move classrooms from day one, with the exception of the kindergarteners who are only here for half days and are thus regulated to a singular room. Since Damien is in the third grade, he will have a locker near the end of this hallway.

“Now if you look to the left and right, you will see classes in session. Our teachers are top notch in their areas. In this hallway, the basic classes are taught: mathematics, science, social studies, and English.”

As Mrs. Baylock was pointing out the different classrooms, Laura took the time to peak into each one. Students sat at their desks taking notes or listening to the teacher at the front of the classroom. Each classroom had a smartboard that took up most of the front of the classroom. The decor of the room changed based on the subject and year the teacher taught. Laura could see how the maths progressed from simple addition to the beginnings of multiplication, English progressed from simple words to reading short series, and so on with the other subjects.

When they reached the end of the hallway, Mrs. Baylock stopped and spun to face them. Laura and Damien pulled up short with the sudden stop.

“Here,” said Mrs. Baylock, holding out her hand towards a locker, “is your locker, Damien. Locker number six six six. The combination is nineteen, seven, six. You may put your items in there now if you wish.”

Laura looked down at Damien who was looking towards his locker. She dropped his hand and he looked back at Laura.

“Did you get that, sweetie?” she asked as she put her hand on his head. Damien nodded and moved to his locker, fiddling with the lock that was attached to the door until a click was heard. Damien pulled open the door and stuffed his backpack in, pulling out a pencil and notebook before shutting the door to lock it.

“Very good,” said Mrs. Baylock. She pointed down the hall to one of the maths room, the one Laura had seen doing basic multiplication. “That is your first-period class. Once we’re done with the tour, I will take you there. There is a young lady in there, Samara Morgan, who you will share a schedule with. She’s been informed of your arrival and will be sure to guide you through the rest of your day. Don’t let her take any shortcuts to classes. I’m afraid you won’t be able to follow.”

Once through with her explanation, Mrs. Baylock turned to face away from Laura and Damien, took a few steps to the end of the hallway, and turned right. Laura put her hand on the back of Damien’s neck and hurried along to follow behind Mrs. Baylock.

“In this hallway, you will find the specialized classes. Here we require all students to take Latin beginning in third grade. This will continue through the eighth grade whereby our students have a full grasp of the Latin language to the point where they can speak it fluently, forwards and back. This is the only specialized class that is required of all students. The rest of the specialized classes are separated into two types. The electives and those selected for the children based on their gifts.”

Two Weeks Earlier

Dr. Loomis remained quiet as Mr. Delacroix spoke to Laura about Damien’s incident in class. Laura didn’t pay much attention to what the principal was saying, having heard most of it before. It summed up to the fact that Damien was disrupting and they felt it would be better for everyone if Damien transferred to a school that could better help him and handle his gifts. The education of all the children was being disrupted and therefore not as effective as it could be. Teachers didn’t know how to handle Damien when he had outbursts. The children were scared.

As Mr. Delacroix finished speaking, Dr. Loomis approached the desk and took over. Laura snapped her attention back, focusing in on the superintendent.

“Laura, what Mr. Delacroix is trying to say is that we can no longer have Damien in attendance here.”

Laura stood up from her chair, sending it back a couple of inches with the force of her motion. “Dr. Loomis, you cannot do this!”

Dr. Loomis held up his hand causing Laura to fall into silence.

“We told you at the last incident that if Damien had another outburst, we would have to suspend him. I spoke to the school board and we agreed, for the sake of everyone, teacher and child, at this school, Damien could no longer attend class. We understand the unique position he is in, but for the safety of this school, Damien will no longer be allowed on school grounds. He is suspended henceforth, indefinitely.

You are more than welcome to come pick up Damien’s classwork and drop it off, but for obvious reasons, this is not the best solution to the situation—”

“Then what,” said Laura, no longer able to contain her anger with the administrators in front of her, “would be the best solution?”

Unfazed by the interruption, Dr. Loomis continued, “As we mentioned previously, at multiple meetings, the best solution would be to have Damien transfer to a school for the gifted. In particular, Penobscot County School for the Gifted. They are uniquely—”

“You have got to be kidding me!”

“—uniquely qualified for situations such as this one. They will be able to help Damien much better than anyone here,” said Dr. Loomis, speaking over Laura’s outburst. “You need to think about Damien and what’s best for him.”

“What’s best for him is to stay here,” began Laura. “He has friends here, despite what you say about the children being afraid or scared.”

“We cannot provide the services here Damien needs, Laura. The children may not all be scared, but their parents are. Damien is coming into his gifts and we, nor you, have the means to help him with them. You need to help Damien the best way you can by getting him the help he needs,” said Dr. Loomis, looking at Laura with pity.

Laura stood silent and staring at Dr. Loomis. She looked down towards Damien who had finally stopped staring into his lap. He was gazing up at his mom looking lost and sad. Upset with what he knew he did but didn’t have any control over.

Laura gave Damien a weak smile and let out a shaky breath. She turned to walk across the room, her thoughts flying and running a hand through her hair. As she made her way back to the desk, she scrubbed her face with her hands and looked between the principal and superintendent.

“Alright. Alright,” said Laura, defeated. “I’ll call them.”

The relief from the administrators was palpable and it made Laura angry, but she understood. She really did understand. She knew this day would come, but had hoped that it would be further out, that it wouldn’t be this soon.

“I can still get homework for him though, until he gets placed?” asked Laura, tentative, unsure if they would take back the offer.

“That’s fine. We want to keep Damien up on his studies as much as we can,” piped in Mr. Delacroix, leaning forward on his desk with his fingers locked together.

Laura nodded, upset at the situation and sad for her son. She reached out towards Damien and patted his head. His eyes hadn’t left her. She motioned with her head that it was time to go.

“Mr. Delacroix, Dr. Loomis, thank you. I’ll keep you up-to-date with his progress,” said Laura as she ushered Damien through the office door.”

“You’re doing the right thing, Laura,” said Dr. Loomis. Laura looked back at him and gave a sad smile before turning back.

As she closed the door behind her, she heard Mr. Delacroix speak to Dr. Loomis.

“It’s impressive that he’s up to getting all the desks on the ceiling.”

Present

Mrs. Baylock continued speaking about the specialized classes, both electives and those specially selected. She pointed out each specialized classroom to Laura and Damien. Laura nodded and made mental notes of each class, even the ones she knew Damien wouldn’t take or be placed in. Laura looked at Damien and saw that he seemed genuinely interested in what Mrs. Baylock was saying. She couldn’t help but smile and feel like she had made the right decision, even if Damien wouldn’t be able to see most of his friends anymore.

“This part of the hallway is where Damien will probably spend most of his time during specialized classes,” said Mrs. Baylock as she came to a halt and spun to look at Laura and Damien.

“These specialized classrooms are for telepathy,” said Mrs. Baylock as she gestured to her right. “These are for demonic powers,” she said, gesturing to her left. “We find that these two gifts tend to go hand-in-hand.

“Any questions so far?”

Laura began to raise her hand but snapped it back down to her side. She saw Mrs. Baylock follow the motion with her eyes and gave a smirk.

“Yes?”

“He’s not in full control yet. I’m afraid because of that, he can get a little destructive,” Laura said, “It’s not his fault though.”

Mrs. Baylock nodded, seeming unconcerned with Laura’s statement. “The teachers will assist Damien in his power control and they have the ability to suppress them as well if the need arises. Remember, these teachers are the best at what they do and they will be sure to keep everyone safe. We also know, all of us, accidents happen. We can’t and don’t expect everyone to be top-level efficiency when it comes to this stuff. That’s why this school was created.”

Laura felt Damien pull on her shirt and she looked down to see him give a tentative smile.

“So I don’t have to worry about hurting someone?” asked Damien, his eyes moving between his mother and Mrs. Baylock.

“No sweetie, it sounds like you’ll be okay here and that everyone is going to help you,” reassured Laura, feeling more confident in her decision with each passing moment.

Just as Laura was about to let Mrs. Baylock know they could continue, a ruckus broke out behind her, near the start of the hallway. Mrs. Baylock’s sharp eyes peered over Laura’s shoulder. Laura and Damien both looked over the shoulder toward the murder impulse classrooms.

The door to one of the classrooms crashed open and was sent flying to the other side of the hallway. Two boys, looking about Damien’s age came out running. Both were wearing masks as they skidded to a stop outside the classroom. They turned towards Laura, Damien, and Mrs. Baylock and began hustling.

Laura watched the boys move, trying to figure out what they were doing. It was a weird phenomenon to watch. The boys moved quickly, but they appeared only to walk. Watching them get closer, Laura realized that every few steps they seemed to disappear and then reappear just as quickly a few feet closer.

Behind them, the teacher appeared, yelling after the two boys. “Michael and Jason, you get back here this instant!”

Laura heard the two boys give mischievous laughs.

“I said,” began the teacher before disappearing and then reappearing right in front of the boys, causing them to pull each other to a stop, “Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, get back to the classroom right now.”

The teacher reached out and spun the boys around. He pointed down the hallway and gave them a shove. Laura could hear them grumble as they made their way back. They kept glancing over their shoulders and made a few crude gestures at the trouble.

Once the boys stepped back into the hallway, the teacher relaxed and turned to face the group.

“Ah Mrs. Baylock, how are you this morning?” asked the teacher who Laura could see was heavily scarred.

“I’m good, thank you Mr. Krueger. I’m just taking our newest student on a tour,” replied Mrs. Baylock, her voice hinting a small amount of amusement.

“A new student! Excellent!” exclaimed Mr. Krueger, clapping his hands together, one of which was bladed. “Will I be seeing this new student in the near future?”

“No offense, Mr. Krueger, but I hope not,” replied Laura, hugging Damien who had stepped close to her when the boys had appeared.

“None taken, but I also teach the dream walking class, maybe there?” he asked, truly not offended, only cheery.

“He hasn’t manifested anything like that either, but maybe in the future,” said Laura.

Mr. Krueger seemed satisfied with that answer. He gave a gruesome smile before giving a small wave before disappearing and reappearing in front of his classroom.

“Enjoy the tour and welcome aboard, Damien!” called out Mr. Krueger before he disappeared again, this time by stepping into the classroom.

“Shall we continue?” asked Mrs. Baylock from behind them. Laura turned back to look at Mrs. Baylock and gave a nod. Mrs. Baylock turned and continued her march down the hallway, not the least bit bothered by the sudden interruption that just transpired.

“So may I ask about Damien’s father? You left that blank on his transfer forms.”

“Oh, I’m sorry about that. I didn’t fill it out because he’s never really been involved,” explained Laura.

“It will help us with future class placements as it will give us some idea of what to expect.”

Laura looked down at Damien and brushed his hair around, revealing the six-six-six scar on his scalp.

“The Devil. He’s kind of a dick, excuse my language.”

The Banality of Evil

The television cast a dim, flickering light into the dark room where it sat. It lit up trash on the floor and dingy furniture with an eerie glow. Old and new beer cans glinted, bags of snacks flashed, and the damage in the furniture stood stark. A politician was on the screen giving a speech causing a low drone of noise to float through the air. A red ticker with white font scrolled across the bottom of the screen giving updates on the world, the city, what was currently happening. Poll numbers popped up to show the upward trend of the politician. His approval rating was up ten percent.

A balding, disheveled man was sitting in a worse-for-wear chair right in front of the television. The light from the screen lit up the man the most. He wore a sweat and food stained beater, torn and frayed blue pajama bottoms, a grey threadbare robe, and grimy brown slippers. The landscape of his face was highlighted by the television, displaying valleys and groves, throwing deep-set eyes into shadows. Dark stubble covered the bottom half of the man’s face contrasting the greyed hair atop his head. His fingernails were chewed to the nail bed and dirty, some even had blood beneath them. The tips of one hand’s fingers were trying to bury themselves into the arm of the battered chair. The other hand’s fingers sat upon the cleanest item in the dingy room: a gun. The fingers would pet the gun every few seconds as his other hand dug those fingers further into the arm of the chair.

The man’s pupils were blown wide and his jaw was working back and forth as he ground his teeth. Angry exhales flowed through his nose like a bull’s. He was riveted to the screen in front of him, anger building the further the politician went in his speech.

“—behind me sands the new commerce building, replacing what was lost to us two years ago. But it is more than a new commerce building! It stands of a representation of what this city has and can overcome. Thanks to our glorious government, those who call themselves super can no longer hide behind their masks or secret identities. They will now have to and have had to pay for the damage they cause to this city and all cities. Us little people no longer have to fear for now retribution is in our grasp! Let this new building remind us of the first time that we took matters into our own hands! When we did not let our fear stop us when we stood up for ourselves!

“It is at this time that I would like to take a few moments to honor those brave men and women of our SWAT who acted on our behalf to hold responsible those who made this city their playground, who—”

The man stood up in a single fluid motion that was opposite his disheveled appearance. He took the few steps to his television set and hit the power button with enough force to push it through its hole. He swore and swung his free fist down on top of the television set with more force, his anger building further. When his fist connected, the television set crumpled under the power, joints and hardware snapping like twigs, dust flying up as the television itself popped loudly, the vacuum back cracking open like an egg.

As the man stared at the pile of rubble that had been his television set only moments before, the hand with the gun raised up to his temple. The barrel of the gun was pressed flush against his temple. Despite the implications, the man’s hand didn’t waver and he didn’t appear nervous. He closed his eyes and pulled the trigger.

The noise of a small explosion filled the room and the man’s ear, his head snapping away from the gun. His hand fell to his side and the gun fell from limp fingers. He followed the descent of the gun, falling to his knees.

As he kneeled amongst the room of broken things, his face contorted and alternated between fury and grief. His mouth pulled and twisted while his eyes were wet and wide. The roaring in his ear subsided in record time and the headache-like pain in his temple dissipated not long after. The hand that had been holding the gun moved to his temple again, fingers fumbling until they found the collapsed bullet, the size and shape reminiscent of a penny. He pulled it from his skin, leaving a dent, and threw it off into the depths of the room.

He moved so that his legs were tucked beneath him, sitting on his haunches. His hands balled into fists as he moved them to his thighs, putting a portion of his weight on them. The man’s head fell so his chin was resting on his chest and hanging between his shoulders. Tears finally welled over and began to fall. His shoulders began to heave and jump. Gasps of breath came in short, harsh bursts. His knuckles began to grind into his thighs. Thoughts raced through his head.

He had only tried to help the people of the city. That’s all he had ever wanted to do, ever since he was little, was to just help people. When his powers had finally come in to their fullest extent, he had been ecstatic. He had been put in a position where he could truly help people who needed it. He could protect them from those who wished to destroy them and hurt them. Who only thought of and acted in evil.

He had just wanted to help.

But despite all his good intentions, the people he had sworn to protect had turned on him two years ago. And they took everything away from him. His good name, all his heroic deeds, and, most importantly, they took his family. The brave men and women of SWAT came to his house after learning his true identity and gunned them all down in an effort to bring him down. Their bullets cut through his wife and little girl and little boy like crops. They hadn’t stopped to think that they weren’t super, that they were just everyday people, that it was just him with the superpowers. They didn’t care. They didn’t care about his family or what he was trying to do.

So he ran. He left the bodies of his family behind and disappeared. He hid for these long two years, alone in his depression and grief. He couldn’t even properly grieve his family as the city took their bodies away. He couldn’t claim the bodies without risking another attack or hurting innocent civilians.

But they didn’t care. They didn’t care about innocents. And after these two long, cold years, he stopped caring, too.

The man threw his head back and let out a roar filled with all that he had felt since two years ago. The sadness, depression, grief, guilt, anger, and then rage all rang out in that single roar. His eyes and jaw hardened as he pulled himself to his feet. He turned to exit the room, strides determined and back tight. Each footfall left a faint impression on the wood floors.

If they were going to make him out to be a villain, then he would play the villain. They’d regret everything. There would be no one to help them now.