Excerpt for Sixty-Seven Salamanders by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Sixty-Seven Salamanders



By Jeffary Joseph



Copyright 2018 by Jeffary Joseph



Smashwords Edition



Smashwords Edition, License Notes



This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

















Table of Contents



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32









Chapter 1



It was just like every other time. Whatever I did or tried, it always ended the same. I was sick and tired of it. A myriad of complex thoughts and emotions ran through my mind. What would I do after this? What did my future hold?

Focus Adin.

This was it, this was finally my chance to change my fate, if even just a little. Everyone was counting on me. I would not fail.

I watched as the enormous being thundered towards me like a runaway train. The massive man was on a one-way collision course with me, which was very, very bad for my health. My first reaction was to avoid him, but I knew that wasn’t an option, so I steeled myself for the inevitable impact. I pumped my legs as hard as I was able; my cleats ripped up grass and dirt as I accelerated towards him.

My heart pounded wildly in my chest; so loud that I could hear it; and I wondered if everybody else could too. People usually run away from the really big guy that’s about to flatten them like a pancake. I heard my inner voice say.

I know but this is our chance to finally kick some ass! My other voice argued.

I cleared my head, there was no running away. It was now or never. The larger man was only a mere five feet away now, and, seeing my chance, I made my move. I ran forward, concentrating on nothing but speed. I felt my calf muscles tense up as my legs pushed against the newly cut grass of my opponent’s field. I felt myself lift from the ground as I launched at my opponent. In that moment it almost felt like I was flying. Then I hit a brick wall.

You were taught never to leave your feet when attempting to take down an opponent and now I understood why. As I slammed into the much larger man, I had an idle thought - this is what being hit by a bus must feel like. Then I blacked out.

Slowly, dazedly, I heard my name being called, but I just wanted to lie there. I had just had a horrible dream where this massive bus had bowled right into me. My head was pounding and I was dazed. It felt like someone had taken a sledgehammer to my noggin.

“Adin!”

I moved to get up and felt a stab of pain. It felt like every bone in my body was twisted and broken. Then I remembered trying to tackle that moving mountain. I must be crazy.

After a moment, I managed to open my eyes, even my eyelids seemed to pound with the force of what had happened.

“Are you alright, Adin?!” The grizzly man closest to my head said in a panicked voice, kneeling next to me as he examined my body for injury. I wasn’t used to my coach being in such a flustered state. For some reason it made me want to laugh, despite the situation, but I managed to suppress it.

“I’m fine coach O’Leary, he was just really.... big.” I said, blinking slowly as everything began to come back into focus - the images before me becoming sharper, clearer. I attempted to sit up again and was successful, even though it still hurt like hell.

“Do you think this is a joke? You could have seriously hurt yourself!” Coach O’ Leary boomed, although noticeably more relieved.

Now this is more like the coach I know. After a few seconds of silence, I answered, “I just wanted things to be different… Aren’t you tired of losing?”

I already knew the answer. Our football team hadn’t qualified for the playoffs in twelve years. Coach O’Leary had been there for most of them. He didn’t speak, he didn’t have to; the face he made said enough.

“Can you stand?” He asked, avoiding my question.

I nodded without a word and grabbed his outstretched hand for support. My legs wobbled for a second and I imagined I resembled Bambi trying to stand for the first time. Once I realized that I wasn’t going to dive head first into the ground, I looked around, taking everything in.

I hadn’t realized how quiet it had been, until I registered all the loud roars and clapping. This wasn’t exactly the applause I’d been looking for, people grateful that there wasn’t a dead kid on the field. As I stiffed legged my way back to my bench, I noticed the scoreboard. I already knew the result, but I looked anyway. And there it was.

HOME 26; AWAY 21.

It reminded me that no matter what I did or tried, my goal was just out of reach. This was my life. My teammates jostled me and gave me pats on the back when I reached them. I knew they meant well, but their friendly pats felt more like hammers to my body. After the field had cleared, my teammates and I made our way to the locker room.

I wasn’t the only one tired of another failed year. The walk to the locker room was heavy and oppressing. All we needed was a dark cloud over our heads. Well, except for Shawn. He was smiling and skipping cheerfully.

“Dude, that was awesome!” He said excitedly as he turned toward me.

“I didn’t know being knocked out was so cool.”

“Nooo, not that man, you dropped Taylor Louis like a bad habit! And you even made him fumble the ball!”

That stopped me right in my tracks. Taylor Louis was one of the top football players in the state of Florida. A few teammates bumped into me and complained.

“So how the hell did we lose the game?” In my mind, I had pictured a scene more like a bowling ball rolling over a pin.

Shawn looked embarrassed as he spoke. “Well… One of his teammates picked up the ball and scored.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I had managed to bring down one of the best players in the entire state and we still lost. God must have a sense of humor.

“Are you alright Adin?” Shawn asked, noticing the blank look on my face. Everyone knew Shawn Porter wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box, but what the hell.

“Have you ever wanted to change something, but no matter what you did nothing worked?” I asked seriously.

“I think I know what you mean dude, kinda like when you’re in a cramped elevator and you gotta let one loose right?”

I stared at him for a few seconds trying to figure out if he was teasing me or not. He stared back at me with a huge grin plastered on his face. He wasn’t. I let out an audible sigh. “Something like that. let’s go, we’re falling behind.”

Shawn smiled and followed. “Wait for me!”

I exited the stadium a bit more invigorated. The locker room showers weren’t luxurious, but they did their job. Shawn usually gave me a ride after games, so I waited by his truck. After a few minutes, I saw him emerge from the locker room.

“Spending time with Big Bird?” Shawn asked me merrily as he approached.

Why he named his truck Big Bird I never knew. I don’t think I wanted to know. I had known Shawn since sophomore year and most things he did or said didn’t make sense. After a while, I stopped trying to figure him out. Some people made fun of him for it, but he never changed. Maybe that’s why I liked him. Most people in this town were too worried about their image to actually be themselves.

I smiled at him. “Thanks for the ride, Shawn.”

I couldn’t afford a car, so it helped out a lot. I glanced upward at the moon, it was getting late - I hope Arena ate dinner. Shawn’s truck started after a few tries and we left the school.

“I still can’t believe you went head to head with THE Taylor Louis!” I heard Shawn say midway through the ride.

“Well, he was pretty damn big,” I replied.

“I know dude! I heard they feed him babies or something.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at that. “What store sells babies, Wal-Mart?”

“I don’t know dude, I’m just sayin’ no one is supposed to be that big.”

Shawn continued to talk, but I zoned out and stared at myself in the rearview mirror. My dark skin matched my mood. I ran my hand through my nappy black hair.

I should probably get a haircut soon.

My eyes were the typical dark brown with thick eyebrows on my oval shaped face. I was more on the slender side which hadn’t helped me much with Taylor.

I turned my head towards the window to watch the scenery as we approached town. What would I do after this? What could I do? The thoughts that I had buried deep in my mind resurfaced. The town I lived in – Maple Hills, had a population of only around 7,000. Safe to say you could call it a hick town; we didn’t even have a shopping mall. There wasn’t a lot to do here and the opportunities were few.

Bright lights interrupted my thoughts as we drove by our makeshift movie theater. I glanced at the movie show times to see the “new” Harry Potter movie up for the third straight month.

They should have stopped after the last one.

I felt like the town was mocking me. It was just another reminder that I was going nowhere. Football was one of the only things that kept me preoccupied, but that was gone now, so I had ample time to think about my desolate future, Wonderful. I was in my final year of high school with only a couple of months left until graduation and I had absolutely no plan.

As a senior, I knew that it was time to stop messing around and start concentrating on work. I was rewarded with top-notch grades. They rivaled the best in my school, albeit a smaller one. I was confident that I could gain entrance into at least one decent college.

That was until I received a wave of rejection letters. I did eventually receive one letter of acceptance, but it was a hollow victory. The letter stated they would only grant me a partial scholarship. The economy was in still struggling after the United States declared war on North Korea a couple years ago, and we, its younger generation, were paying the price.

We had discovered North Korea was developing a nuclear program to attack the U.S. We gave them numerous chances to disband their nuclear program, but they held fast. Eventually, we had no choice but to engage them. Even now U.S. soldiers were dying on North Korean land.

Usually war was profitable for the economy and it was – just not for everyday citizens. The large corporations that provided war material and goods had no competition, none. They could charge whatever they wanted to and they did. The war had become so expensive the government started borrowing from private banks. As a result, taxes increased and the dollar became inflated.

They even stopped giving out student loans. To sum it up, there was no way I could afford to go to college. Most of the money from my part-time jobs went towards paying bills.

Although my mother did her best, I knew she and my sister depended on my chances of getting a decent career. Especially since dad passed. He was a scientist who died in a lab accident years ago. I was still fuzzy on some of the details. It seemed like a lifetime ago. It was ten years ago now – no, eleven. I tried picturing his face in my mind’s eye, but I could barely remember it now. I mentally sighed.

Basically, I would be born, live, and die in this town.

Shawn pulled me away from my thoughts. "Home sweet home!"

I thanked him and watched him drive off. An effort to raise my arm in farewell delivered a shock of pain to run down it, making me wince. I turned and dragged myself to the front door of my typical one-story house. Needless to say, I was ready to face plant in my pillow. I’d forgotten to take my key that morning, so I rang the doorbell. After a minute there was still no answer.

”Where is she?” I asked to the empty air, slightly annoyed. “Arenaaa!” I yelled and waited for another minute, but still there was no answer. I twisted the doorknob, even though I knew it was pointless, but it opened.

What the hell.

Arena never left the door open. We watched a movie called Home Invaders years ago. She had slept in my bed for a whole month afterwards. I cautiously opened the door. “Arena?” But there was no answer.

Maybe she’s just playing music in her room or something. But then why would she leave the door open?

My heart raced as I stepped into the house. The lights were off and it seemed empty. I considered calling the police then but thought better of it. I hadn’t even checked her room yet. I started in that direction when I felt an impact. Something, or rather someone attacked from behind, jumping onto my back. Dazedly I wondered if they really thought it was the right way to ask for a piggy-back ride.

I lost my balance and tumbled to the floor, the piggy-back attacker right along with me. I was dazed for a second, but quickly regained my composure. I was on my back with the piggy-back attacker right on top of me. He felt surprisingly light.

I couldn’t make out his face with the lack of light, but that didn’t matter. I had to attack first to get the upper hand. I had taken boxing lessons every summer since I was eight. I didn’t practice anymore, but I was still confident in my skills.

Please don’t fail me now.

Before I could channel my inner Muhammad Ali, I felt the attacker kiss me on the cheek.

Okay, now this is getting weird.

“Are you scared?” I heard the piggy-back attacker ask in a high- pitched voice. I was confused for a second but registered the voice after I had calmed a bit.

Arena.

We played pranks on each other often, but I think giving your sibling a virtual heart attack was a bit overkill. But all in all, I was relieved. “Yeah, you got me good, but you know what?” I asked.

“What?” She replied. I could tell she was grinning even though it was too dark to see. I commenced giving her the fiercest tickle attack I could summon. She fell on top of me giggling.

“What the hell were you thinking scaring me like that?” I asked, as I continued with my tickle assault.

“Okay, okay, okay, I’ll tell you if you stop, I give up!” She squealed through fits of laughter.

After a few more tickles, I finally relented. “This better be good, I’m in a tickling mood.”

“We wanted to surprise you,” She said happily.

Before I could ask who “we” was, light filled my eyes, as the living room light was switched on.





Chapter 2



I tossed my head backwards to see a light-skinned girl step out from the kitchen. On her head was a big wad of black curly hair, it reminded me of a bird’s nest in all its craziness. She also had grapes in her hand. My grapes - I’d planned to eat those later.

“What’s up, punk?” She asked.

“Your panties,” I answered literally. Her long legs extended from a white summer dress.

“What?” She said looking down.

I was still lying on my back, so I could see them pretty clearly. “Blue is my favorite color.” I gave her a wide smile as I answered.

“Perv.” She threw one of the grapes right at my head. I expertly caught it and ate it.

She cracked a smile. “And to think I came all the way out here for you.”

I finally stood up and faced her. “Really? I didn’t know you cared so much,” I said in a teasing tone.

“Not like that, idiot.”

I still remember the day I met Candace. Our fathers had been close friends, so when he died she had attended the funeral. I was off in some corner of the church crying when she approached me from behind.

She’d startled me when she suddenly spoke up. “If you have time to sit around crying then you should be helping your family.”

At the time, I was shocked how someone could be so mean, especially in that situation. My sadness quickly turned to anger, but before I could react to her insensitive words she did something else that surprised me. She hugged me. She was two years older, so she had to kneel.

I recall her sudden hug sending me into another fit of cries, then she told me something I still remember to this day. “This isn’t fair and it sucks, but this is when you have to be strong, even if you aren’t. Don’t cry, Adin.”

That was the last day I ever did. Even when I would fall off my bike or bump into something, I would just smile. She was even the reason I started boxing, the memory fade away.

I studied her face. She was just as beautiful now, as she was then. Maybe she didn’t know, but I was grateful to her for it. She made me strong.

“I have something for you.” She dipped back into the kitchen and came out with an envelope. “Ta-da,” She held out what looked like a regular white envelope.

I grabbed it and looked at it somewhat suspiciously. “You came all the way from New York just to hand me an envelope?”

She smiled at me and nodded.

“What is it?”

“Open it and find out, silly.” Her smile grew even wider.

I looked at the envelope closer. It was addressed to me with my name and address neatly handwritten, but there was no indication of the sender. I tore it open and pulled out a yellow letter.



Dear Master Adin Anderson:



We at Addison College have been interested in you for quite some time. We believe you contain the potential to contribute a great deal to our school and eventually society, just like your father before you. He was a valued member of our Institution and has not been forgotten.

I won’t lie to you, your late father’s position influenced our decision, but we believe you have his drive and determination. With your acceptance, I and Addison College welcome you.

Sincerely,

Dean Dexter.

I stood there frozen. Was this real? A ticket just like that to get out of this town? A chance to actually accomplish something in this life. I never was a big believer in destiny or fate, but in the moment, I felt like the stars were lining up. The fact that it was The Addison College made the situation even more unbelievable. If you knew anything about Addison College you knew it was near impossible to get into, you’d have better luck hitting the lottery. “I can’t believe this,” I said in an excited tone. If I had the ability to do backflips, I would’ve done them right there. Instead I settled for jumping up and down.

“What is it, Adin?” Arena asked, leaning closer to look at the letter.

“An acceptance letter to the same college I attend,” Candace said, answering for me.

A wide smile spread quickly on my younger sister’s face. “You can finally go to college just like you’d always talked about, I’m proud of you, Adin.” Arena came over and gave me a hug that only reached my chest.

There were moments that I forgot my sister was only eleven years old. I was able to talk to her about things I couldn’t even talk to some of my friends about. “Thanks Arena.” I said, rubbing her head.

“Awww, you guys are so cute.” Candace came over and bear hugged us both.

“I can’t breathe,” I said half-jokingly.

She laughed and released us. “I actually have more to explain about the letter, Adin,” Candace turned and said to me, with her smile gone replaced by a much more serious look.

I knew there had to be some sort of catch.

“Alright,” I turned to Arena and tugged one of her pigtails. “Time for bed, shorty, it’s getting late.”

She quickly gave Candace and I another hug then retreated to her room.

“Let’s talk in the kitchen. I’m starving,” I told Candace, making my way towards there.

“Fat ass,” I heard her say behind me.

“You’re the one eating my grapes!”

She popped another one in her mouth. “And they’re delicious.”

That’s how our relationship was; hurling insults at each other with implied love. After my father’s funeral she would show up to my house every day to play with me. At first, she acted as a pseudo big sister, but eventually we grew to be best friends. I was mature for my age back then taking care of my family, but then again, I really didn’t have a choice. But if I was smart, Candace was a genius. No, really, she had an IQ of 144. Addison College had recruited her since she was in middle school. There was no doubting her abilities. She was by far the most intelligent person I knew.

She would be starting her junior year at Addison in the fall. It made me realize how much I actually missed her. Hell, she was practically family. But I wasn’t going to let her know that. She’d probably just tease me.

“So, besides coming here to harass me and inhale my grapes, what’s up with the letter?” I asked Candace, raiding the refrigerator. She was seated at the kitchen table behind me.

“Oh yeah! I just remembered, how was your football game?” She asked me, totally changing the subject.

“We lost,” I replied, curtly. I didn’t really want to think about it. The bitter taste of the loss still clung to my mouth. I finally decided on an apple and joined Candace at the table.

“As long as you tried your best, you have nothing to regret,” she looked right at me as she spoke.

I knew they were just hollow words, but they made me feel a little better.

“Thanks, Candace,” I said smiling.

“Anyway, I know you’re eager to find out what I have to tell you, it’s kinda complicated.”

I nodded for her to continue.

“Okay, so basically, you know how Addison College is super hard to get into, right?”

I nodded again.

“Well, like the letter said they’ve had their eye on you for a while - ”

I interrupted her. “Yeah but, that’s only cause my dad worked for them, right? It’s not like I’m some prodigy like you.”

“Well… that’s partly true, but you’re not totally pathetic,” she smiled playfully. “Adin, if they felt you had no talent, trust me, they wouldn’t give you a second thought.”

“Stop, you’re making me blush,” I responded mockingly.

She ignored me getting serious all of a sudden. “Your father was working on something when he passed away.” I leaned forward a bit. “He was actually the lead scientist on the project.”

I never really knew the exact details of my father’s work. All I knew was that he worked with chemicals and things like that. I was a kid when he died, and too busy taking care of my family to think too much about it.

Even before he died, he was always working, so I always felt like the man of the house. Addison College was in New York, so he’d be gone months at a time. I had virtually no time for friends and simple things like video games. Maybe that’s why I resented him growing up. Maybe even a little now.

“I know you were never really interested in your father’s work, Adin, but he was a pretty big deal.”

“Makes sense why he was never home… How do you know all this anyway?”

She looked at me for a moment before she continued, “I’m on the student council, so I’m privy to more information than most, but what he was working on Adin, was huge.”

That kind of surprised me. “How huge?”

She thought about it for a moment, “Godzilla huge,” she said seriously.

“Ok, but what does that have to do with me?” I was still a bit confused.

“Yeah well, this is the complicated part. When your father passed away in the lab explosion, a large amount of the research was lost. They were able to recover just a small fraction and had to start from scratch. They’re moving at a snail’s pace, though. In almost a decade they’ve been barely able to replicate what your father did in just a few short years.”

I whistled, “I guess he really was amazing.”

Candace smirked, noting my sarcasm. “This is where you come in. From what little they have recovered; your father’s notes mention your name. Several times, actually.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.” I argued with a slight frown.

I barely knew what type of scientist my father was, let alone be involved in his work. Something else bothered me too. “And if this project was such a big deal then why are they only trying to contact me a decade later?” My head was full of questions and speculation, but I kept them in check long enough to let Candace answer.

“Well, to answer your first question, I'm not exactly sure, like I said I’m privy to more information than most, but the project is highly classified. And to answer your second question, your name has only been recently discovered.” She took a breath and continued. “But they're so desperate to further the research that they're grasping on to anything that even remotely has a chance of helping. In all actuality you may have nothing to do with your father’s research at all, but they damn sure want to find out.”

I was still trying to digest everything Candace was saying. “Well even though I feel a little used, I'd be a fool not to accept their offer, right?” I asked rhetorically.

“Right,” Candace answered anyway with a smile. “Plus, you'll get to spend more time with moui.” She added, eliciting a small smile from me. I was basically getting my best friend back.

“You spoil me too much, Candace.”

“I know, but you're so darn adorable,” she said with a grin, before standing up. “It's getting late, I should get going.”

“You’re not going to wait for mom? You know she'd kill you if you stopped by without saying hi.”

“I know, I know, but I really did only come to deliver that letter to you, Adin. My bus actually arrives pretty soon,”

There was a lone charter bus that came to Maple Hills twice a day. It would take you to Miami international airport almost two hours away.

“Well, I still appreciate you making the trip all the way down, so as a thank you I'll escort you to the bus stop,” I offered. The bus stop was a short walk from the house, but I didn't feel comfortable letting her walk there alone.

“My, my, what a gentleman.”

“I know, right?” I said with my best charming smile.

We spent the walk there in a comfortable silence. One of the things I had always liked about our friendship was we didn’t feel the need for unnecessary chatter. As we reached the bus stop, I glanced up at the stars, noting - not for the first time - how pretty they were. One of the good things about being in a small town like ours was that you got to see a lot more of them.

“You know looking at the sky like this makes me realize how much I miss it here,” Candace suddenly said, melancholy, echoing my thoughts.

“Yeah, I don’t imagine New York’s polluted sky to be quite as sexy.”

“No, it’s not.”

I studied her face out of the corner of my eye as she continued to admire Maple Hill’s night sky with her large round eyes, they were dark brown like mine. Her full lips were set firm in a straight line and her small roundish nose pointed up at the sky. Maybe she was just homesick? One thing about Candace was that you could never exactly tell what she was thinking and I knew her better than... well anybody.

“Hey, is everything...“ I began to speak, but a bright light interrupted me mid-sentence. The bus had arrived.

I swallowed my question, I’m sure she was fine. It was Candace we were talking about here, nothing bothered her.

She turned to me as the bus pulled up. “It was good seeing you and Arena, make sure you give mom a big hug for me,” she said smiling.

“I will,” I responded somewhat awkwardly. I never was really good with good-byes. What did you do with your hands? The bus honked at us to speed up our little farewell.

“Hold your damn balls!” she screamed back. “People these days, can’t they see we’re having a heart-wrenching emotional moment?” Candace huffed and smiled at me.

I couldn’t help but laugh; this was the Candace I remembered. “Get out of here, crazy.”

She grabbed me in a sudden embrace. “It really was good seeing you again. You better get your ass enrolled at Addison as soon as you possible, you hear me?”

“I will.” I stood there and let her hug me, for some reason I felt like she needed it.

She released me without saying anything more and made her way on to the bus. As the bus started up, I waved at her even though I knew she wouldn’t look back. Some philosophical thing about always looking forward, who knows. I continued to watch the bus as its lights eventually faded from my view and darkness once again enveloped the surrounding area.

I barely noticed the darkness though as my thoughts were focused on my new unbelievable situation. I would finally be able to get the hell out of this town! But what was this business with me and my late father’s research? I had 101 questions for this Dean Dexter.

Either which way it was safe to say my life was going to get a lot more interesting or chaotic, whichever way you looked at it. Despite my anxiousness, I smiled. Even a little chaos was better than being bored, right?

































Chapter 3



I didn’t really feel like going to school the next day. All that was waiting for me were looks of pity and empty praise. I wasn’t in the mood for it. The loss was still too fresh in my mind, but alas, I had a perfect attendance record to keep. I was one of the few kids in this town who actually took school seriously. I mean, knowledge was power, right?

The day went by without much incident, but just as I expected, I received a wave of condolences, telling me how it was just bad luck how we’d lost. I knew they meant well, but I didn’t feel like hearing it. I didn't believe in bad luck anyway. It was your own skill that determined whether you failed or succeeded, not luck. I actually missed Shawn’s ramblings at times like these. But for some reason he wasn’t at school today, which meant I’d be walking home.

The Sun was out and angry today. I wiped away beads of sweat that were starting to form on my forehead. I was already sweating and I’d only been walking for a few minutes. I tried mentally escaping like they tell you to do when you’re in an undesirable situation. I shut my eyes and envisioned myself eating ice cream in an igloo, but I still felt like passing out in the Florida heat.

Someone save me.

Just when I was about to commence melting, I heard a car’s horn on the side of me.

“Hey buddy, need a ride?”

I blinked my eyes, but he was still there; Taylor Louis in the flesh. I stood rooted in place staring at him in his red Chevy Tahoe. Our last meeting, it had been a lot less… friendly, but he was acting the total opposite of that. Well, it's not like it'd been personal, we weren't enemies or anything.

“So, can I take your silence as a yes?” He laughed.

“Oh, uh, sure, I’m down.” I replied still thrown off balance by his sudden appearance.

Even though, I was a bit confused by his presence, I didn’t see a reason to turn down his offer. Plus, if I stayed in that heat any longer I’d be resembling scrambled eggs soon. I hopped in his Tahoe’s passenger seat and was immediately grateful. The air conditioner blasted me right in the face with cold bliss. I let out an involuntary sigh, in response.

“Ha-ha, you really were dyin’ out in that heat, huh?” He asked, as he drove off.

“Ha, yeah, you saved me back there.” I truly was thankful, but I was much more curious as to why he was still in my town. “I thought your team already went back to your district?”

“Nah, we’re here for an extra day, so I wanted to meet the guy who was able to knock me on my ass.” He turned to me and smiled.

It seemed to be a genuine smile. One of the best players in the state was impressed by me? I was kind of flattered, I guess I’d made some sort of impression on him.

“You got some guts, man, I don’t think I’ve ever been hit that hard, and I’ve been hit by some big dudes.”

I smiled wide at all the praise coming from him. I felt it actually meant something. I mean he wasn’t just anyone, he had been on the cover of magazines and even on TV. He was a local hero in our area.

“Oh, my house is just up here, make a right at the stop sign.” I was so focused on the conversation, I barely noticed we were near my house.

“Nah dude, I’m taking you to a little party the team is havin’, we got some chicks there and they are fineee, dude.” He drove past my house at full speed and continued down the road.

“Oh…” I guess this wasn’t the worst way to spend my day. And I liked fine girls.

Eventually, we pulled up to some buildings that looked empty. There were alleyways in-between them that also looked deserted. “The party’s here?” I knew this town like the back of my hand, so I knew we were in an area with mostly abandoned apartments and buildings.

“Yeah, bro, we're set up in a little abandoned spot right up the way.” He gestured toward an ally-way and got out of his truck.

I shrugged my shoulders and got out too. Plenty of kids in this town used the empty buildings for many things. It was our own little getaway from the adults. I followed close behind him and examined the surrounding area.

There were large green dumpsters lined up on both sides of the alley-way and trash scattered all over the ground. I vaguely remembered coming out here with a girl my sophomore year. While I was lost in a rather enjoyable memory, I bumped into something.

Taylor Louis had drawn to a halt in front of me. I figured we'd already reached the spot, when he pivoted towards me like a flash of lightning and threw a punch right at my face. His giant-sized fist grazed my forehead as it whooshed by. Luckily, it was a glancing blow. I’d had just enough time to react to it, so that it wasn’t a direct hit. And thank God it wasn’t, because being hit by those boulders he called fists wasn’t going to do my face any favors.

“What the hell are you doing?!” I yelled, breathlessly. I felt my face for any damage and discovered a gash above my left eyebrow. Blood trickled down the side of my face in a slow stream.

“I’m just payin’ you back, man.”

Something about the way he answered so calmly set my Spidey senses off. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up in response. This guy wanted to hurt me. “What the hell are you talking about? I didn’t do anything to you!” I still couldn’t believe he had intended to bash my face in.

“You did plenty.” Dust kicked up from the ground as he slowly circled me. He resembled a shark circling its prey.

Humans were interesting creatures. Despite our high level of intelligence whenever we were confronted with danger we resorted back to our primitive ways. Algebra didn’t matter now, the fact that I knew the square root of Pi was useless to me. We were animals again, in our purest form.

My fight or flight response kicked in as my muscles tensed up and my breath became heavier. Whether I was ready to fight or fly, I didn’t know, but fighting this Hulk of a human seemed unwise. Fight or flight? Maybe there was a third option.

“This is stupid, Taylor, do you really wanna risk getting in trouble and blow your chances at a scholarship?” I tried reasoning with him. I still didn’t know what his vendetta was against me, but I just needed him to believe this was a losing situation.

“You’ve already managed to do that! You made me look bad in front of the scouts that came to see me. Even my teammates are calling me soft… All because of you!”

I studied his face as he continued circling me, the calmness he displayed earlier was gone now, in its place a menacing snarl. He lunged at me, but I had my guard up, so I sidestepped him. A gust of wind ruffled my shirt as he flew past me. He was fast for his size, but I was faster. I didn’t think reasoning with him was going to work. It was clear he had only one thing on his mind.

“Stay still and take your ass whoopin’ like a man!” He was becoming more and more agitated as the seconds ticked by.

As I mentioned before, I took boxing lessons off and on since I was a kid, so I sort of knew what I was doing. The few fights I’d had, I’d won easily, but I had a feeling this wouldn’t be as easy. I took a deep breath and got in my boxing stance. The pen mightier than the sword, my ass. Sometimes you had to fight.

“So, you’ve decided to take your ass beatin’ like a man, huh? Don’t worry, I won’t try to fuck you up too much, I have a reputation to keep. The people love me around here, ya know?” He smiled a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.

Before I could respond he closed in on me, fast. I jumped to the side as he swung wildly at me. I nearly lost balance as my foot slipped on a McDonald’s burger wrapper that littered the ground, but I quickly gathered myself. I bounced from foot to foot as he prepared himself to attack again. My strategy was to keep moving and find openings to strike. There was no way I could have a slugfest with someone of his size. Speed was my advantage, but instead of rushing me he approached me cautiously this time.

Taylor launched a right hook that I managed to block. Each individual rock-sized knuckle slammed into my forearms as the force of the blow knocked me back. He immediately followed up with a vicious uppercut that I dodged by leaning my head a couple inches to the right.

I threw a straight jab at his stomach that felt more like I was punching a wall. He barely reacted and continued advancing towards me. Taylor Louis was relentless in his attacks as he sent another flurry of brutal punches that had me bobbing and weaving. A straight jab to my face, I bent my knees and dipped my head. A left hook aimed at my body, I twisted my body, feeling his knuckles graze my rib-cage.

I was on my heels, all I could do was retreat, he was just too big. I staggered forward as my back hit one of the giant green dumpsters that filled the alley-way. I barely managed to raise my arms in time to block as he used the opportunity to send down a thunderstorm of combinations. I winced in pain as each shot rattled off my arms. Despite the predicament I was in, I knew I couldn't panic. I had to use his aggressiveness against him.

Taylor continued his unending attack, but I could barely even feel them anymore. My eyes opened wide as I saw him wind up for a haymaker to finish me off.

Now was my chance!

Taylor had his right arm fully extended behind him and his left arm uselessly at his side. He thought he had me cornered and as a result, let his guard down. He had left himself totally exposed, naked as a baby bird.

Even before he could move his right arm a centimeter forward, I planted my feet firmly to the ground and fired a hard hook that connected with his face. He groaned as my punch forced his head to jerk the right. Without wasting time, I leaned on my toes a quarter-inch and stepped into a crushing uppercut to his jaw that elicited a crunching noise.

He stumbled back and spit out a bloody tooth that hit ground and rolled just short of my shoe. I didn’t think he was going to be getting a visit from the tooth fairy anytime soon. Despite my brutal combo, he was still standing.

I have to end this now.

I quickly advanced on him and delivered a straight jab that I felt collapse his nose, blood sprayed all over his shirt like a warm bath. He doubled over with his hands on his nose, cursing up a storm in obvious pain.

“You asshole, you broke my nose!” Taylor screeched. He sounded like an angry cat that had been forced in the bathtub.

My lungs emptied as I exhaled, the fight was finally over. All of a sudden, I felt exhausted as the adrenaline left my body. I was acutely aware of the pain in my arms now, they hung limply at my sides like wet noodles.

“You wanted this fight, not me.” I wasn’t feeling particularly sorry for what I’d done.

“You’re dead!” He suddenly reached for his jean pocket and brandished a small green army pocket knife.

I froze in horror; was he serious? My stomach turned and it felt like I was going to throw up. I didn’t scare easy, but knives were a completely different matter. “Listen, Taylor, you’re not thinking -” Taylor ignored me, and sped towards me, the dagger in hand.

I frantically tried to think of a plan to avoid the idiot coming at me with a knife. I was way too exhausted to run, I might collapse if I even attempted to.

Think, you idiot!

It was too late; he reached me in no time. His arm came down in an arc. I dove to my right crashing to the ground. Small rocks and debris ripped the skin on my forearms as I skidded to a stop. I cursed loudly. Streams of blood made their way down my elbows like a lazy river. They were on fire.

I looked up with shaky vision to see Taylor looming over me. He had a wild look in his eyes, like a starved animal.

He’s going to really kill me.

I gasped and clutched my chest as I felt a sudden explosion of pain that felt like I was having a heart attack. I tried to take a deep breath, but my lungs were completely devoid of air.

How pathetic, I must be the first person to die before actually getting killed.

Taylor let out a prehistoric cry as he brought the knife down towards my head, I threw up my hand at the last second and felt the blade separate the skin on my palm in hot white pain. If I’d had the ability to curse I would’ve shamed a sailor, but I was still gasping for air.

Blood from my hand fell to the ground mixing with the dirt and grime. That was my last stand, I had no more energy left to fight.

You win, you asshole.

I was on my knees awaiting my execution. My heart was doing jumping jacks in my chest. My mouth felt dry and I could barely think. I raised my head, but I wasn’t staring at Taylor this time.

The sky was a clear hazy blue with full and vibrant clouds. I guess it was a beautiful day to die as any. My last thought was of my family. I let my eyelids fall and waited for the final blow.

“Die!”

I broke my wrist once when I was twelve and it had been bad enough to require surgery. If you’ve ever been sedated, you’re you, but not you. Sort of like an out of body experience. You’re conscious of what’s going on, but you can’t fully control your actions, similar to a dream. That’s the feeling I was experiencing now.

Breath rushed back into my lungs all at once, filling them like two giant balloons. My head snapped up to see the descent of Taylor’s knife a mere foot from my face. My vision was blurry, it was like I was wearing glasses that weren't meant for me.

My right arm shot up and grabbed his wrist before the knife reached me. His mouth formed a little “o” in surprise. Hell, I was surprised too, how in the world was I moving so fast?

I squeezed his wrist and heard a pop. His scream filled my ears as he howled in pain. The green army knife clattered to the ground in front of me, I instantly snatched it with my damaged hand and thrust it into his gut without any hesitation.

No!

His body flew like a rag doll and hit the ground with a smack a few feet away.

Holy crap.

I was in awe at what I might have just done, but I knew I had to check on Taylor before assuming anything.

Please don't be dead.

I opened and closed my undamaged hand, apparently, I was in control of my own body again.

What in the hell was that?

I struggled to get to my feet and staggered over to Taylor. I looked down at him. He had a knife protruding from his stomach. I didn’t have to check his pulse. His eyes were glazed over and wide in shock. My stomach lurched again. His unmoving gaze held me in an accusatory look.

You killed me.

“I’m sorry.” My knees buckled and I fell to the ground, vomiting heavily. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see something moving, but I was too exhausted to pay it much attention. I felt the world spin, and as whatever it was moved closer, I had the sense to wonder what it was, before darkness took over.



























Chapter 4



I was awake. My mouth felt dry, parched. I tried to swallow my saliva and failed. I could feel uncomfortable material clinging to my skin, like a dress. My entire body ached and I felt completely drained. My eyes were still closed, so I strained my ears to listen for any noise. I heard “beeps” and “boops” that sounded like R2-D2. Where was I? I tried remembering what I’d been doing before and felt immediate pain as a thousand pictures flooded my mind. I heard the R2-D2 sounds get louder at the same time.

Taylor Louis, the fight, a knife, going berserk, Taylor dead, black boots, passing out.

Oh god, no, no, no.

That’s right, there was a dead guy because of me. Sure, I was only acting in self-defense, but that didn’t make me feel any better. I had killed a breathing, living human being. My stomach tightened and twisted in disgust.

What in the world had happened to me during the fight? It felt like something possessed me, as though I had gone into Hulk mode - minus the green skin. How would I explain this? How could I? I doubt anyone would believe it. I don’t even know if I believed it.

Even stranger than that, if that was possible, was what I saw before I passed out. I still don’t know whether it was real or not. Maybe I was delirious because of the state I’d been in, but I remember seeing several pair of black boots out of my peripheral vision. Maybe they were paramedics? But for some reason I doubted it.

“Nurse!” A voice snapped me out of my thoughts. I recognized the panicked voice instantly.

Mom.

I heard a door slide open. “What’s wrong, Mrs. Anderson?”

“Look at the monitor, his heart rate is 107!”

I tried calming down, my heartbeat and the R2-D2 noises got quieter in tandem.

I slowly opened my eyes to see my mother’s worry-filled face at my side. A female nurse in dark blue smocks stood at the foot of my hospital bed. I was in a white as can be room. Behind the nurse were see-through sliding doors. In the corner of the room was a small toilet and silver sink.

“Mom.” I attempted to say, but it came out as more of a croak.

“Adin!” My mom cried out, tears already threatening in her eyes.

“You’re gonna mess up your makeup.”

“Oh, I don’t care about that! I’d hug you right now, but I’m afraid to touch you.” She opted for kissing my forehead.

“How is your head feeling, Adin?” The nurse came around and flashed a light in my eyes with what looked like a small pen.

“Like it got ran over by a bus, several times.”

“The concussion you sustained isn’t serious, but we still have to be cautious.” The nurse smiled at me.

Despite my joking around, I was scared to death. My eyes darted towards my hospital room door every time someone passed by. I imagined a deputy storming into my room at any moment to haul me off to some prison.

“Thank God, you hit a tree and not a bus. I’m so sorry about your friend.” The nurse’s eyebrows furrowed and her lips downturned in a frown.

What?

What was she talking about? My friend? I was pretty sure you didn’t stab your friends in the gut. I quickly raised my hand and looked at it. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There was no cut. No scar from where Taylor had sliced my palm.

“Why are you staring at your hand, honey?” My mom asked.

“Oh... nothing.” Did I dream the whole thing? Or maybe I was just going insane.

“Do you remember what happened?” The nurse asked.

“It’s hazy….” I wasn’t sure what to think.

“You and Taylor Louis were both driving… Taylor lost control and hit a palm tree. It’s so sad, he had such a bright future.” The nurse turned around and picked up something off of a small bed-side table. She walked over and handed me a newspaper. “They wrote about it in the Maple Hill’s daily paper.” I let my eyes slide over the fuzzy text.

LOCAL FOOTBALL STAR KILLED.

I read through the article in silence. Apparently, Taylor and I had been hanging out at a party where he’d had too many drinks. This had to be fake… Or maybe I was just losing it

“How long was I out?” The fact that there was already an article meant that I’d likely been out for at least a day already

“You were brought into Maple Hill’s community Hospital yesterday early afternoon. You faded in and out of consciousness for most of the day. We did basic blood work and several of the tests came back abnormal, but they were most likely contaminated, so don’t worry, you seem to be doing fine.” The nurse explained.

I nodded dumbly, unable to speak.

“Okay, I’ll just examine you now and if everything checks out, you’re free to go home.”

A fight or a car crash. I didn’t know what to think anymore, and to be honest, I didn’t care. I just wanted to get on with my life. I had something to look forward to now; college was within my reach; and nothing was going to get in the way of that.

But first, the attractive nurse had to examine me. I gave her a smile; she made being in the hospital slightly more bearable.













Chapter 5



The next couple of months flew by - and without me really even realizing, it was suddenly April. My entire attitude towards life had changed - I guess you could call it a New York state of mind. I had a purpose. A goal. I didn’t even mind studying for more than three minutes.

When friends would invite me out on the weekend, I would tell them I was studying. They would look at me like I had an extra head growing out my neck. Personally, I thought there were two types of people in life, those who accomplished things and those who ended up going nowhere. I refused to be the latter.

Plus, I planned to make good on my promise to Candace. If I wanted to get into Addison College as an early enrollee I’d have to pass their summer placement test, which was supposed to be like climbing Mount Everest if you let Candace tell it. Well, I guess it wasn’t one of the top schools in the entire country for no reason. I knew I had my work cut out for me.

The whole mess with Taylor Louis still bothered me. No matter how hard I tried to forget the situation I was reminded of it. Though a lot of the talk had died down, there was still the odd person who would approach me now and then to talk about “The Crash.” In our small town, news like this was considered major, and I knew it wouldn’t go away any time soon.

A vibration interrupted me from the text that could have been written in Chinese for all I understood of it, considering it was supposed to be about algebra. When the hell was I ever going to need Algebra? If I ever became a politician, I would ban all math that included letters.

Maybe it was because she had no faith in me or really, really wanted me to pass, but I received my third text from Candace that hour. It was another text reminding me what materials to study.

[Adin:] Ok mom I got it

[Candace:] I am your mom until u pass that placement test.

[Adin:] Well if u would actually let me study mother

[Candace:] Fineee so ungrateful let me know as soon as ur done with the test.

I put my phone down and switched it off. I didn’t need any more distractions today. I was finally ready to take the placement test. For the last two months it had been my sole focus. I had let my school work suffer, but I felt that this was far more important. And the material Candace recommend I study paled in comparison to my normal school work.

I took a deep breath and logged onto the Addison College website.

Let’s kick this tests’ ass!

A little self-motivation never hurt anyone. Before I could click the red “start test now” button, I heard a knock on my bedroom door. I thought I had clearly put a large do not disturb sign on my door, but apparently people in this house couldn’t read.

“What?!” I yelled, annoyed. I had the attention span of a goldfish. When I was studying or taking tests I needed complete focus.

“It’s Arena.”

I sighed and reluctantly got up to open the door.

“Yes, madam can I help you?”

“How’s your studying going?”

“Arena, you know I asked you not to bother me today.” I pointed at the sign on my door.

DO NOT DISTURB ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENTS IN PROGRESS.

“I’m sorry, Adin, I brought you Oreos and milk, I thought you might need a break. I’ll just leave them in the kitchen.”

I looked down and noticed the snacks in her hands for the first time. Geez, I felt like an ass now. Why did I have to have such a thoughtful sister? She turned to leave, but I grabbed her shoulder.

“Hey, hey, you’re not going anywhere with those cookies, I’m starving.” Now that I thought about it, I actually was pretty hungry.

I must’ve been studying longer than I thought.


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