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The Man Who Wasn’t There – Part 29

the man who wasnt thereAlthough most of the town escaped only minor damage, when they get to the Finley’s house, they find serious damage.

Brian ran up to Chase. His friend wouldn’t move, didn’t respond. He stared at what was left of the shed. A crumpled form lay amid the devastation. Miles Casey stood a few feet away, Dora Finley in his arms. She cried hysterically, trying to break free so she could run to the shed.

“Cliff. Oh, darling! He’s dead,” she screeched. “He’s dead!”

An ambulance sat in the yard a few feet away. Emergency workers huddled around Cliff’s body, but it was obvious to Brian and Jordan that their friend’s father was dead. An EMT brought a syringe over, holding it where Dora couldn’t see. Miles nodded, tightening his grip. The needle slipped in and Dora collapsed in his arms. Lifting her easily, Miles set her on a waiting gurney. The EMTs strapped her in and wheeled her to the nearby ambulance.

Chase watched as he mother was loaded into the ambulance. Another EMT covered his father’s body with a sheet. Unblinking, Chase stood rooted to the spot. Miles came over and tried to talk to him. Chase’s eyes flickered from him to his father’s body and back. He nodded once.

“Where are your sisters?” Miles asked again. “Are they here?”

Chase shook his head. The movement was jerky, uneven.

“You’re sure they aren’t here? Are they at a friend’s house?”

Still mute, Chase collapsed. Sobbing, he fell to his knees. Miles squatted next to him.

“Go check the house, son,” he murmured to Brian.

“Yes, sir.” He ran up to a fireman. “He has sisters,” he explained. “We don’t know if they were home or not.”

“No problem, son. We’re on it. What part of the house might they be in?”

“Their rooms are at the front on the top floor. Living room is—honestly, sir, it would be easier to show you.”

“Get the kid some boots and a helmet,” the fireman said to another man who was standing by the truck.

“Yes, sir.”

“That’s his dad?” the man asked quietly.

“Yeah.” Brian gulped. “He’s my best friend,” he told the fireman. “His family is like my own.”

“I’m sorry, kid. We couldn’t do a thing for him. By the time he was found, he’d been dead for at least thirty minutes. Near as we can tell, the force of the blast killed him immediately.”

Brian nodded, leading them to the front door. It was unlocked. He went in, calling for the girls. He and the firemen checked the first and second floors, nothing.

“There’s a playroom in the basement,” Brian remembered. “If they were home, they might have been down there.”

“Lead the way, Brian.”

The firemen followed him down the hall to the basement steps.

“Katie, Lucy? Are you here? It’s Brian!”

He thought he heard a slight sound. Unsure, he borrowed a flashlight from a fireman and went down the steps. The wind had knocked out the power lines. The basement was completely dark. Walking carefully, he picked his way across the room.

“Katie? Lucy? It’s okay, girls. It’s Brian. I’ve got firemen with me. We’re here to get you.”

“Brian?” a tiny voice carried across the room.

“Katie, where are you, honey?”

“On the couch. We were watching My Little Pony when the lights went off.”

“Almost there. Are you hurt?”

“No, but we’re really scared, Brian,” Lucy said.

He saw two pale, frightened faces. Both of them reached for him. He could manage one or the other, but both together was too much for him. Katie was almost ten and tall for her age. Lucy had just turned seven. One of the firemen picked up Katie. Brian got Lucy. The fireman let Katie wear his helmet, so Brian put his on Lucy. They made their way slowly across the room and up the stairs. Coming out in the kitchen, they set the girls down.

“Where’s Mommy? And Daddy?” Katie asked.

Brian wasn’t sure what to say. The fireman bit his lip.

“My dad’s outside,” Brian said. “And Jordan. Want to go to my house for a little while?”

They nodded, wide eyed. Brian led them out the side door, out of sight of the front and back yards. Jordan met him at the car and they took the narrow dirt road to his house. Jordan sent Miles, Jackie and Maribelle a text to let them know what was happening and that they’d found the girls.

“Chase is going to the hospital,” Miles sent back. “He’s in shock. Your mom is going with him. Keep the girls at our house. I’ll get some clothing before I leave.”

“Okay.”

“Where’s Mommy?” Katie asked again.

“My mom will explain when we get to our house,” Brian said.

They trooped up the steps to Brian’s house. Maribelle met them with a plate of fresh baked cookies and cold glasses of milk.

“Maribelle, where are Mommy and Daddy? Brian wouldn’t tell us,” Katie asked.

Calmly, Maribelle explained what had happened. Neither of the girls completely understood about their father.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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The Man Who Wasn’t There – Part 28

the man who wasnt thereThe storm seemed to be attracted to Marissa. Her father made her a charm, but it came out more like a hex bag. It didn’t cause the storm, but it certainly made it come after her. The teens and Dora head to Brian’s house.

Dora flounced off and Maribelle went to the sidebar in the dining room. The teenagers stared at one another.

“No one has a clue where that came from?” Jordan looked directly at Marissa.

“Maybe? Nothing specific, but when I look back, I do think it was after me. It seemed determined to get at me. If Dora hadn’t arrived when she did, I think it would have.”

“But why you? I don’t think it was just your dad’s hex bag. It didn’t feel powerful enough for that,” Chase said. “I think it would have gone for you regardless.”

“That makes me feel so much better,” Marissa snapped.

Chase put his arms around her, kissing her tenderly. “Why you?”

Jordan cleared her throat. “Not to be mean, but could it be a situation of going after the weakest link? Not that you don’t have skills, Marissa. You haven’t had the training like the rest of us.”

“Because of my father,” the other girl concluded. “Yes, I thought of that. If I’d had your training, I could have opened that door without Chase.”

No one refuted her statement. It was true. They could all have done it right away, without help.

“I’m more of a liability than I am an asset,” Marissa complained. “I can’t do anything.”

“That’s not true,” Chase said, somewhat angrily. “There’s no one in the group better at medicinal aids. Your healing skill is getting really good.”

“And you make great teas,” Jordan said. “I can’t make herb tea to save my life, but you can.”

“Oh, whoopie, I can make tea.” Marissa pouted, eyes watering.

Jordan took her hand. “Remember last month when I was so sick with cramps and you made that tea mix for me? It worked really well. Now, at the first twinge, I’ll drink it. That’s a skill, Marissa. One I don’t have.”

“No one is better at curing a headache,” Chase said.

They all looked at Brian. He was racking his brain trying to think of something she was good at that they hadn’t already said. “And you sing better than the rest of us too,” he added.

“That’s not a magical skill,” Marissa said, punching his shoulder.

“I dunno. Some of the spells require chanting, even singing. Dad said that some of the most powerful rituals need good pitch, so a lot of people don’t even attempt them. You just need training. You’ll get that now.”

The doorbell rang three times and someone knocked loudly. Brian ran to the door. Marissa’s parents stood there, wide eyed and pale.

“Is she here? Is she okay?” Nadine said, rushing inside.

Marissa ran to her mother’s arms. Her parents embraced her.

“Your charm was shit, Harold,” Dora Finley said from behind him. “Nadine needs to make her one.”

“Whatever you say,” Harold said quietly. “I tried, honey,” he told his daughter.

“It’s okay, Dad. We can learn and practice together.”

“Let’s go home,” Nadine suggested. She hugged the children and Dora. “Thank you for protecting my little girl.” Sobbing, she followed her husband and daughter to the car.

“Too much excitement,” Dora said. “Chase, let’s go home. I need to start dinner.”

“Let’s stop and pick up pizza, Mom. I don’t think either of us feels like cooking.”

“Just one large, right?” she said with a wink.

“Yeah, that’d feed me just fine. But if the rest of you are hungry, we should probably get more.”

Laughing, they said goodbye.

Jackie drove up just after they left. She rushed to the door. Brian saw her coming and opened it.

“You’re okay!” She pulled Jordan to her, nearly breaking her ribs.

“Mom, it’s all right. I’m fine.”

“I was coming back from Vicksburg when Mamie called. I went at least ninety the whole way.” She hugged and kissed her daughter. Her attention turned to Brian and she hugged and kissed him too. “What caused it?” she asked Maribelle.

“We’re still trying to figure it out. Miles and Heath haven’t called back yet. I couldn’t reach Cliff, his phone went directly to voice mail.”

Brian’s phone rang. It was Chase. “Hey, Chase….”

“Brian. Get over here fast.” His voice held panic.

“What’s wrong?”

“Just come. Please.”

“On my way.” Brian grabbed his coat, heading to the door. “Something’s wrong. Chase needs me.”

“I’m coming, too,” Jordan said.

Her mother followed them. “Maribelle, you stay here. Try to reach the men.”

“Of course.” She was already on the phone when the other three left the driveway.

“What’s wrong?” Jordan asked Brian as he sped along the road to Chase’s house.

“No idea.”

They pulled up to the Finley house and he saw what was wrong. The grove where they had the bonfire, was flattened. Trees looked as if a giant foot had stomped on them, smashing them to match sticks. The shed where Cliff and Chase practiced was gone. Only the foundation remained. The house looked fine until they got around back. The rear wall was peppered with slivers of wood. Half a tree stuck out of the roof.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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The Man Who Wasn’t There – Part 27

the man who wasnt thereBrian uses his powers to help Noel and Trista, stuck under debris when the shed collapses. He and a couple of other boys help get them out so that the EMTs can transport them to the hospital.

He nodded. Once they were all well clear of the building, he let it settle to the ground. He lost control the last six inches, dropping it. A puff of dust and a soft thud were the only indication that the wall had fallen.

Exhausted, he wandered toward the front of the school. Stumbling over his feet, he went around the building rather than through it. He found Jordan sitting on the front steps next to Chase, Marissa and Mrs. Finley.

When she saw him, Jordan hopped up and ran to him. “What was all that?” she asked, as if he were somehow the odd occurrence expert.

“No idea.”

“It felt very specific,” Mrs. Finley said.

“What do you mean, Mom?”

“I mean, it might as well have had a name written on it. It passed over the school, swung around and came back—directly at the music room.”

“It was after me?” Marissa screeched. “Why would anyone want to hurt me?”

“I don’t know,” Dora Finley replied. “I can’t be sure it was specifically after you, just a feeling.”

“Jordan was back there too,” Marissa protested.

“True, but it turned at the football field and came back. Like it was looking for someone. Why would it do that?” Chase said.

“I don’t know,” she whimpered. “I don’t know!”

“But the music room was damaged, not the theatre,” Brian pointed out.

Dora reached out, tugging on a string around Marissa’s neck. “What’s this?”

“Something Dad made for me,” she replied. “He said it would protect me.”

Snapping the string, Mrs. Finley opened it and sniffed the contents. Wrinkling her nose, she dumped the ingredients and tossed it aside with disgust. “Harold never was any good at charms. Idiot!”

“What? What did he do?” Marissa asked.

“He tried to make a charm,” Dora replied. “Instead, he made the equivalent of a hex bag. Anyone wearing that would be the target for an attack rather than safe from it. It didn’t cause the whirlwind, but it certainly didn’t deter it either. If he’s that worried, he should have asked your mother do it for him. I never met anyone better at that than she—not even Cliff.”

“I think he felt bad because he’s been so mean,” Marissa said quietly.

“I know, darling. He should know better. We’ll get something else for you. In fact, we need to make something for each of you.”

“Cliff made us each a charm last year,” Brian said.

“Yes, but this is different. It isn’t Mr. D, though it’s certainly evil.” Dora shook her head, pressing her lips in a tight line. “I don’t know what or who, but you can be sure I’m going to figure it out. No one comes against my son and his friends!” Herding them all to the parking lot, she sent them all home with Brian. “I’ll meet you at Mamie’s house,” she said. “Go. Now.”

The teenagers didn’t argue. They got in Brian’s car and went went to his house. There were some downed trees, but most of the destruction was isolated to the high school grounds. He was able to get them home in good time.

Maribelle Casey met them at the door, trying to hug and kiss them all at once. “Dora called. There’s coffee and soft drinks. Go to the kitchen.”

“Yes, ma’am,” they chorused.

Dora arrived a few minutes later. “There are reports of freak incidents all over the county. No one knows what caused it. Suddenly, there was a black cloud and it rushed in quickly, did some damage and left. Luckily, no fatalities.”

“If they want to intimidate us with unpredictability,” Maribelle said. “They’re well on their way.”

“It could have been a lot worse, Mom,” Brian pointed out.

“Don’t tell me that. I almost lost you last year. If it hadn’t been for Jordan’s quick thinking, you would have died. That settles it. No school until this is over.”

“Mom, I have to go to school. People would have died today if we hadn’t been there to help them.”

“We stopped the wind together, Mrs. Casey. And Brian held up a wall and helped clear rubble with his mind,” Chase’s voice held awe.

“Jordan helped with the wall too,” Brian added. “And you opened the door to the supply room.”

“No, that was Marissa,” Chase replied. “I didn’t do that much.”

“You made it easier for me to stop the wind,” Brian said. “I’d have had a hard time without you.”

“And I’d been trying to get that stupid door open for five minutes,” Marissa said. “You walked in the room and it popped open.”

“Having a receiver on your side in a fight is a plus,” Dora said proudly.

“What caused it?” Maribelle asked.

“No idea,” Dora replied. “I couldn’t get a sense of origin at all. Did any of you kids?”

They shook their heads.

“Maybe one of the men will know. Chase, text your father and tell him where we are, would you? I need a bathroom. Mamie, I need something stronger than tea.”

“Got ya covered, Sis. Whiskey or brandy?”

“Whiskey. Ice.”

“Coming right up.”

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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The Man Who Wasn’t There – Part 26

the man who wasnt thereA freak tornado heads right to the school, but hasn’t registered on the weather radar. Brian and Chase make it dissipate, but now there’s the aftermath to deal with. Out by the football field, a small building is partially collapsed. Brian rushes to help.

Slowly, Brian opened the door. It swung toward him, sagging on the hinges, squawking like an angry goose. Brian shown his light in the entrance. He saw the wall with the boy holding it. He looked ready to fall down. A row of roofing nails were embedded in his thigh. Blood had pooled at his feet. It took longer to find the girl. She was partially buried under the wall, pale and afraid, but alert.

“Better not to move her,” Brian told the boys. “But let’s shore up the wall and roof. What’s your name?” he asked the young man.

“Noel and that’s Trista.”

“I’m Brian. That’s Justin and Flynn.” He pointed to the cheerleaders. “Anyone else here?”

“Just us. I’m hurt bad, Brian. I can’t hold this much longer.”

The other two boys were busily trying to move the book shelf, only to find it was attached to the wall. Brian spotted a line of file cabinets. He told the other boys to get that. Ripping off his shirt, he tore the cloth into strips and bound up the leg wound. Noel was in a bad way. The blood seeped slowly and he shook with the strain of holding the wall. Once that was done tying up the wound, Brian found a place to stand by the other boy and took the weight of the wall on his own back, pushing with his powers.

Justin and Flynn moved the file cabinets into place, taking the weight from Brian and Noel. They lifted Noel and set him aside. He screamed in pain as they moved his injured leg. Both of them apologized as the lowered him to the floor. Keeping the force going, Brian eased out from under the wall and went to sit by Trista. She was pale, clammy. He didn’t dare move any of the rubble without help. Depending on her injuries, she might be alive only because the debris acted like a tourniquet.

“Help’s coming, honey. Hang in there.”

“Where’s Noel?”

“Here, baby. I’m okay.”

Justin had added strips of his shirt to Noel’s leg. Moving him had started the bleeding again. He fashioned a tourniquet with that and a Bic pen. It wasn’t ideal, but it would hold until help arrived. A pounding of feet outside heralded the arrival of the emergency team.

Romeo stood outside, panting. “Sorry it took so long. The courtyard is blocked. We had to go around.”

“Thanks,” Brian said. “Trista’s in a bad way,” he told the EMT. “I have no idea what’s going on under there. I didn’t try to move her. We had to get Noel out from under the wall. It was ready to collapse and so was he.”

“You did good, kids. Thank you.” He turned to Trista, smiling. “Hello there, young lady. My name is Darren. Let’s see what’s going on, okay?”

“Okay,” she said faintly.

Brian knew she was in bad shape. He could sense that one lung was on the verge of collapse and she had internal injuries. She had a spinal fracture and a compound fracture of the left femur. The knowledge wasn’t from his own mind. He could hear someone else’s voice in his head telling him.

“I think she has a spinal injury,” he said aloud. “And her lung is collapsing.”

“He’s right,” the second EMT said. “She’s sipping air. Anything else, kid?”

“Broken leg and some internal bleeding.”

The emergency personnel stared at him.

“How do you know that?” Justin asked.

“Call it a hunch.”

“We’ve got a couple stretchers outside. Think you boys can get our friend to one?” the first EMT asked.

“Yes, sir.” Brian gestured to Justin and Flynn. He got the stretcher and the boys helped lift Noel onto it.

“I’ll show you how to get around,” Romeo said. He took one end of the stretcher.

Justin took the other end and Flynn carried the IV bag. Brian stayed with the EMTs who were working on Trista. When they started shifting the bricks and other debris from her, he did his best to lighten the load as well as keeping the damaged wall up. It was exhausting, but he knew he couldn’t let it fall or it would bring the entire shed down. Just when he thought he was at the end of his strength, he felt the load lighten. Jordan walked up, ducking her head inside the building.

“You okay?”

“I’m fine. Trista’s having a tough time.”

“I see that. How can I help?”

Brian’s eyes flickered to the wall and roof. Jordan nodded, understanding. She eased her power next to his, taking the majority of the burden from him, allowing him to help the EMTs even more. Once Trista was free, Brian got the other stretcher. Between the three of them, they rolled her just enough to get her on the firm surface before strapping her in place.

“Do you know your way back?” Brian asked.

“Yes. But can one of you come along and hold the IV?”

“I will,” Jordan said. “Brian, I’ve got this,” she murmured. “Let it go,” she whispered.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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The Man Who Wasn’t There – Part 25

the-man-who-wasnt-thereBrian gets angry because the boy playing Romeo to Jordan’s Juliet, gets fresh. He’s uneasy even after he calms down, which worries Chase and his mother.

“Me too. I thought it was just me.”

“What do you think it is?”

“No idea,” she replied. “But I’ll bet it has something to do with that.” She pointed at a dark cloud low on the horizon. It moved quickly toward them.

Dora Finley pulled out her phone and dialed 9-1-1 reporting a tornado.

“Our emergency system hasn’t registered it,” the dispatcher said.

“Look out the window,” Dora said, leading the boys inside.

“Oh, my God!” the dispatcher said before hanging up.

The town warning siren went off. Students and adults ran for cover. The cloud moved quickly toward the school, specifically toward Brian and Chase. Glad to be inside, they followed Chase’s mother down the hall to her office.

“Go inside and wait. These are all interior walls and there’s only the window in the door. Go!”

“Where are you going?” Chase asked.

“To help with the drama kids and the choir.” She took off.

Brian and Chase exchanged a look. Their girlfriends were in drama and choir.

“No way I’m sitting in here,” Chase said.

Brian was already out the door and down the hall, running toward the fine arts building. Fortunately, it wasn’t far. Wind wailed around the building. Windows shuddered, walls shook. Screaming people tried to find a safe place to ride out the storm. By the time the boys had reached the theatre, the students had taken refuge in the dressing room. Brian determined that Jordan was safe and followed Chase to the choir room.

This room was in chaos. Three large windows sat high in the wall. Two had burst, showering the room with broken glass. High winds circled, flinging glass in razor-like shards. A clutch of people tried to hide under the risers in one corner. Another two hunkered under the baby grand piano. Sheet music whirled around, slicing through the air. The wind increased when they opened the door. By some miracle, the flying glass missed both boys. Their clothing whipped around them as they assessed the situation.

“Chase!” Marissa screeched.

“I told you to wait,” his mother called, fear tinging her voice.

They huddled under the risers, not far from the supply cupboard.

“Get in the supply room,” Chase ordered.

The door popped open. The chorus members rushed toward the open door. When they were inside with the door shut, Brian and Chase faced down the wind. Though it whipped their clothing, the debris didn’t touch them. Concentrating on the source, Brian filled himself with calm, sending it forth like a wave. The wind stopped howling, paper and glass dropped safely to the ground.

Chase ran to the supply room door. Brian headed back to the theatre. White faced and trembling, the cast and crew members left their hiding places. Jordan ran to Brian, flinging her arms around him.

“Was that you?” she whispered.

“No, I swear. I don’t know what that was.”

“How are the others?”

“They’re fine. Don’t worry. Shh.” He held her close, stroking her hair. “Shh. Chase and I took care of it. You’re all right.” He gave her a quick kiss. “I need to go. The people outside might need help.”

“I’m coming too.”

He couldn’t stop her and didn’t try. Jordan grabbed her jacket and backpack.

“I’m going to help look for injured people,” she told Mrs. Faust.

Several of the other students did the same. They followed Jordan and Brian.

Romeo trotted up beside Brian. “Dude, about earlier. That was a dick move. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t tell me, tell Jordan. She will bite you.”

“Yeah.” He hesitated. “I just wanted you to know.”

“Do it again, we’ll have trouble,” Brian said in a matter of fact tone. “No harm, no foul—this time.”

The boy nodded and ran off toward the cheerleaders who were hiding under the bleachers. Brian headed toward the equipment storage on the other side of the field. Partially collapsed, the roof had fallen in. People could be trapped in there. As he approached, he heard voices.

“Help! Please, help!” a young woman called.

“I’m here,” he called. “I’m getting help. Hang on!”

“No, don’t leave!” she yelled. “My boyfriend is holding the roof up on his back, but he’s hurt. I’m trapped. The wall collapsed on us.”

Brian called 9-1-1, but the line was busy. Yelling at Romeo, he finally got the other boy’s attention. “There are people trapped in here. They’re hurt. Find help!”

Romeo dashed off. Some of the boys on the cheerleading squad ran over. Brian activated the flashlight app on his phone and led them into the dilapidated shed.

“We’re in here,” the girl called. “Please, help.”

“Coming!” He turned to the boys. “Okay, the roof collapsed and the wall caved in. There are people trapped. Can you handle this?”

The boys shrugged, nodding.

“People need help,” one of them replied. “I can handle anything.”

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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The Man Who Wasn’t There – Part 24

the-man-who-wasnt-thereAt school the next day, Brian waits for Jordan at play practice, nearly losing his cool when Romeo slips Jordan some tongue during rehearsal.

“I have a boyfriend,” Jordan reminded him.

“So?”

“So, he’s here,” she explained, pointing to Brian.

Brian squared his shoulders. He was considerably taller and more muscular than Romeo. His anger made him even more formidable.

Romeo glanced at Brian, face going slightly pale, but he’d come too far to back off. “Big whoop. It’s for the play, Jordan. Get over it.”

“Nowhere in the script does it say, Romeo slipped her some tongue,” Jordan explained. “Don’t do it again or I’ll bite you.”

“She threatened me, Mrs. Faust,” the boy appealed to the teacher.

“I didn’t hear anything,” she replied. “And if you do it again, I’ll replace you. You’ve got an understudy.” She stood with her hands on her hips. “Just because the scene calls for a kiss, doesn’t mean you can take advantage. Apologize.”

The boy mumbled something unintelligible.

The floor shook again, this time the director and her assistant took note. Jordan’s frown deepened.

“What was that?” Mrs. Faust asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe a train?” the girl replied.

Mrs. Faust glanced at her watch. “Not time for one.”

There was another shudder. Jordan’s horrified gaze met Brian’s.

“Excuse me, Mrs. Faust. I want to wash the taste of his tongue out of my mouth. He tastes like cigarettes and fruity Mentos.” She hurried off the stage.

“Sure. Take ten, kids.”

There was another rumble. Jordan rushed up the aisle to where Brian stood. Grabbing him by the arm, she dragged him out of the theatre.

“Stop that right now! It’s over. He’s just an idiot who thinks he’s God’s gift to women.”

“You don’t know how bad I want to punch him,” Brian growled. His hands balled into fists and the windows rattled.

“Yeah, I do. You have to calm down,” she cautioned. “Please, Brian. Go splash water on your face or something.”

Brian wouldn’t move, so Jordan dragged him to the men’s room. It was empty, so she shoved him inside, following him. Jordan wet a paper towel and tried to mop Brian’s face with it. He blocked her hands, breathing rapidly, his anger still strong. The mirrors and sinks shivered. Bits of plaster fell from the ceiling.

Pointing her finger at him, Jordan concentrated a spurt of frigid water at his face. Sputtering, Brian looked at himself in the mirror. Red in the face, he was covered in water and tiny ice crystals. His shirt was wet and the slush was dripping on his pants. A warm wind dried him.

“Better?” Jordan glared up at him. “Because this is stupid. He’s just some dumb boy who thinks he’s way hotter than he is. He got fresh, I took care of it. I don’t need you to protect me, Brian. I’m pretty good at doing that myself.”

Sighing, he hung his head. “You’re right. I’m sorry. And I deserved that.”

“You deserved way more, but I don’t want you bringing the school down on my head because you’re angry.”

“You’re right. I’ll wait outside for you.”

“Okay. Good plan.” She kissed his cheek and went back to the stage.

Brian shuffled outside and flopped on the grass. His phone rang. “Yeah, Chase.”

“Dude, was that you?”

“Was what me?”

“We had tremors at football practice. Coach is freaking. He was gonna call the fire department or something, but it stopped.”

“Romeo dove for Jordan’s tonsils. I got pissed.”

“That’s it? Jeesh, Brian. What’s up with you?”

“Not much, Chase, except I’ve got a psychic Rider on my shoulder.” Stopping himself before he lost his temper again, he took a deep breath and repeated Meru’s mantra. “Sorry, man. I’m edgy and I don’t know why. I feel like there are icy spiders running up my spine.”

“Bhhhg,” Chase shuddered. “Great, now I feel that way. I’m on my way.”

“You’ve got football.”

“Things are such chaos right now, Coach won’t notice. Where are you?”

“Outside the theatre.”

“Stay put. I’m coming. I need to tell Marissa and Mom. Hang tight.” He hung up.

Brian didn’t want to go against Chase’s instruction to stay put, but he was worried about Jordan. Phones weren’t allowed during practice, so hers was off and in her backpack. If something was about to happen, she needed to know. He’d headed toward the door when Chase called to him.

“Where are you going?”

“Jordan.”

“Marissa’s on her way. She’s at chorus. Mom’s coming.”

Mrs. Finley joined them a few minutes later. “What’s happening?”

“No clue. Brian said something about icy spiders and I realized I’ve felt like that the past couple hours.”

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The Man Who Wasn’t There – Part 23

the-man-who-wasnt-thereFeeling better, Brian sits down to dinner with his family, Jordan’s and the Beauchamps’.

“Still got the rest of this week to get through,” Brian said with a sigh.

“Meru wants to talk to you,” Miles said quietly. “Do you feel up to it?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“I’ll set it up after dinner,” Andre said.

“Thanks.”

Dr. Meru’s smile had dimmed since Brian last spoke to him. He eyed the younger man critically, desperately wanting more nuance. He’d spoken to Andre and Claude, but he wished he could make his own hands on assessment. At least the boy looked well, though he was slightly pale.

“Tell me, in your own words, what you experienced.”

Brian gave him a detailed account. Dr. Meru nodded, making notes as Brian spoke. He asked very pointed questions, clarifying details the way that Jordan and the others had.

“This is fascinating, Brian. You’ve been somewhere and seen something that no one else I know, has ever seen. This is absolutely unprecedented!” He couldn’t control his enthusiasm any longer. “Do you realize how special an honor you’ve been awarded? You’ve been to another realm. You brought back a Rider!”

“So far, it’s been a rare treat,” Brian replied, somewhat sarcastically. “I could have done without the pounding headache, the vomiting, the vertigo…. The enhanced senses are kind of cool, but I have to say,” he leaned toward the computer, lowering his voice. “The jacked up sex drive is awkward.”

Meru leaned forward too. “Increased libido? That is interesting. Disconcerting, to be sure, at this stage of your life.” He nodded, considering a few moments before replying. “You have noticed a marked increase? This isn’t just, forgive my belittling it, teenage hormones?”

“Trust me, Doc, there’s a huge difference. Teenage hormones heat things up, no doubt. But I feel as if I have a tendency to start fires.”

Dr. Meru caught the song reference and laughed. “Indeed. I wish I had a solution for that, my young friend. Sadly, other than the usual remedies, I have none.”

“I’ll have to make sure Jordan and I aren’t alone,” Brian said. “I can’t keep Andre around as a watch dog.”

“To be sure. I might have an additional aid.” He flipped through a book and landed on a page. “This is a chant—not a spell, no tedious ritual, no special ingredients, merely a meditation aid.” He rattled off a few words in a language that Brian didn’t know. “Repeat it.”

Brian did. Strangely, it helped. He felt less burdened.

“Completely reusable and non-addictive. Say it whenever you have need of it. If I come up with anything else, I’ll contact you.”

“Thank you, Doc. You’ve been a huge help.”

“I fear not as big a help as I’d like, but I’ll keep looking. I have my colleagues world wide, searching through their files as well. Perhaps we’ll find a solution before Halloween.”

“Thanks.”

They bid farewell and disconnected.

Brian and his parents headed home a short time later. Andre and Claude went with them. Brian had been very careful how long he kissed Jordan when they said goodnight. He made sure that Andre was nearby and kept a slight distance between them. He didn’t dare risk her safety again.

School the next day, was predictably boring. If he hadn’t had Jordan, Chase or Marissa in most of his classes, Brian would have gone out of his mind. He waited for Jordan to finish with play practice after school, since he was giving her a ride home. They were doing an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet that the speech teacher and the senior English teacher had written. Jordan, to her surprise, had been chosen for Juliet, although she’d tried out for the part of the Nurse.

Brian sat in the semi-dark theatre, watching the party scene unfold. The boy playing Romeo wasn’t bad. He carried himself well and spoke distinctly. Brian couldn’t help but be impressed. He wasn’t really paying attention until it came time for the kiss. Throwing himself into the scene, Romeo got a little too familiar with Juliet. Whether it was scripted or not, he decidedly slipped her some tongue.

Jordan, taken by surprise, rabbit punched him in the gut. With a yelp, Romeo jumped back. Jordan dropped into a fighting crouch, fists raised.

“Come on, I was in character,” he whined, stumbling back a couple of steps.

Jordan shook back her hair, color high in her cheeks. “Because you’re so damn irresistible, is that it? I’m supposed to excuse you because you say you’re in character?”

“You know you wanted it.”

Jordan screeched, lunging at the hapless boy. He staggered back another couple of steps, tripping over his own feet. He landed hard on his butt. One of the girls jumped forward, grabbing Jordan before she flailed him.

Brian stood angrily, not moving right away. He watched, fury pooling in his belly. The floor quivered under foot. No one seemed to notice at first.

“I have a boyfriend,” Jordan reminded him.

“So?”

“So, he’s here,” she explained, pointing to Brian.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes 

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