We just finished our New Year's Party for 2016 and it was time to say goodbye to my friends, as well as Wilma and her uncle. Wilma and I were the last to hug and Mom bidded farewell to Wilma on her college journey. Still, it made me wonder: how is she to balance her two halves on such a faraway place? Then I remembered what Em said about that and I felt comfortable again. I went to sleep that night, feeling comfortable about the life I was leading. It seems like nothing could make it go wrong.
I realized I spoke too soon about that statement.
A few days later, I had just come home from school and heard loud banging from my room. It seemed like someone was hammering something against some metal so I ran to investigate. It was Em, fogging up the window with his hands. He was panting, looking down frequently. I opened up the window and asked what was wrong. He grabbed me and shouted, "YOU GOTTA HELP ME! I think someone's hurt!"
Out of disbelief, I asked, "What?"
He led me to the fire escape and I looked down. There was a lot of smoke and trash was all over. What did Em do now?
He tugged on my sweater and pointed downward, revealing a fallen creature. I couldn't believe as I got down the escape. We aired out the smoke and saw the badly burnt animal. It had two legs and two arms like Em but different clothing. It wore a bright orange shirt that had ashes and seemed to be wearing sacks for shoes. It had big ears and purple fur. It was leaning on its stomach and we agreed to carry it up to our room. We rested the poor fellow on my bed and Em positioned the fan to air out more of the smoke. I scurried off to get a glass of water and when I came back, Em was astonished as I shoved it in the purple creature's face. He shook his head as he woke up and I shrugged to Em. "At least it worked," I remarked. I looked back at the waking creature and thought, How random can my life get?
When the creature finally woke up, we were eager to ask him who he was. But when he saw Em, he grunted with disgust and disappointment and muttered, "Some friend you are…"
Insulted, Em demanded, "Hey, whatcha mean by that?"
A little frazzled by Em's vernacular, the purple rodent rationed his voice and asked out of curiosity, "Luca, why are you talking like that?"
Luca? Apparently, Em was frustrated by that name change. He grabbed his spiky head and growled, "I told you, I'm not Luca! I'm Em! Who is this Luca person?"
The purple rodent shook his head in hesitation and responded, "Nevermind that...I apologize for my intrusion."
He was about to get up but Em could sense his struggle to move. He rubbed his shoulder and urged him not to move. Em pleaded, "Come on, you were badly hurt by those cats! You mind telling me who you are and what's going on?"
The rodent found himself at a dead end and sighed. He looked up at us after much indecision and responded, "The name's Jerry, Jerry Mousinez. I come from a tribe of survivors that escaped from the shambles of our world."
Shambles...I was intrigued by his introduction. He continued, "My job is to find food for my part of the tribe since it's so large but since I know nothing of this world, I beg you to help me and find out where I am."
Before we could answer, Em and I had to congregate and decide whether to trust this person or not. Since our parents weren't home, we had to give into our generosity and let Jerry stay with us to recuperate. I ran for some Cortizone to heal his wounds. When I got back, I saw the two locked in a staring contest. I shrugged and sighed, "Em, this is not the time for games."
Em said to me, "Kellin, he knows our dad."
I dropped the medication and was shocked as well. How could Jerry know my dad? He never told me anything about meeting a...wait, I remember a conversation that Mom and Dad were having and it occurred a few days after the whole Labor Day incident. Mom was arguing with him, whether he should tell us more about his job and not risk us getting hurt in a situation that didn't involve us.
"How do you know our father?" I asked Jerry. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly with uneasiness. He scratched his head and started, "I was just a baby then when it happened, but my world was invaded by these strange creatures. We've never seen them before. They were giants! They look like clones since they all wore the same clothing, but their hands and heads varied in color. We watched them as they ransacked our village, taking everything they could. Our harvest, our food, our home...we couldn't do a thing…"
He took a pause to himself and continued, "One of my brothers tried to stop them, but it was too foreign for him. He didn't know how to handle those strange creatures, especially with the arsenal they had! He was injured and one of them took him away. We shouted for them to return, but the man who carried out my brother...he never returned."
"That man," I finished for him, "is my father."
Em chimed up, "Hey, he's my dad too!"
"Shut it, Em!" I shouted. "Don't you see what's happening? Now our world is being trounced upon and we're not doing anything about it." I sighed, "Listen Jerry, I'll ask my dad about your brother...wait! I'll introduce you to him! He may remember you!"
He could see my excitement and smirked, "So I guess you don't get much visitors here, right? Well, sorry for intruding."
He was getting ready to leave, but we stopped him. Em pleaded, "No, wait! Please stay! Who knows if you may hurt by those...fire cat things? Stay here and recover."
"Yeah," I advocated, "but in my bed though. I should text Dad about this. Let him know what's up."
Jerry smiled, silently accepting our offer. We asked what he needed but we heard his stomach growl and Em dashed out to the kitchen. Jerry and I were left alone for a short moment. I asked Jerry, "Are you mad at my Dad?"
He closed his eyes. He opened them again and responded, "No, not for the moment. I just want to know if my brother is okay. I would forgive him for his species invading my village, but not until I know how my brother is."
"I understand," I said, feeling a bridge form between us. He traveled all this way to meet my brother to find out if his brother is okay. If I were him, I wouldn't change a thing about that. Out of curiosity, I asked him why he called my brother Luca.
Jerry's eyes widened but he realized he must face the facts. "Luca," he started. All of a sudden, Em arrived with a platter of empanadas. He dashed up to us and announced, "Empanadas en el plato!"
He offered it to Jerry and Jerry seemed skeptical by the appearance, but his nose begged to differ. He took a bite out of one of them and was delighted. With his mouth full, Jerry exclaimed, "This is heavenly! Out of this world! What are these?"
"Empanadas," Em said slowly. "Made from my mama!"
"Your mother?" Jerry asked, looking at the both of us. We laughed and I explained, "Em was adopted when I was a toddler, before we moved to New York."
"New York?" Jerry asked for clarity. He started to look excited. "You mean… this noisy place is New York?"
We both nodded and Jerry squealed. He exclaimed, "I've always heard of this place, but I never thought the sewers would lead me here!"
"Well, lucky for you!" Em exclaimed, matching his excitement. "You've got two tour guides just eager to help ya!"
"Oh gee," said Jerry, almost touched. "I thank you for your hospitality, uh…"
"Kellin," I finished. Jerry smiled and said, "The Kane Brothers. Brothers even if blood doesn't match!"
"That's right! Say how about we go out tonight? I'll show my favorite place in the world!" Em exclaimed, overjoyed that he finally met a friend.
Jerry looked excited, but his expression died early. He contemplated, "But my tribe...they're hungry and they're counting on me for food!"
"No worries, I'll pack a doggy bag."
"Yeah, I love helping the needy!"
"Oh...thank you, Em."
"No problem, Jerry."
Jerry left before Dad and Mom could return home. There was something about getting to his place before sundown and it was already getting dark. Em and I contemplated whether we should confess, but we kept it a secret for the time being. Before we went to bed, I asked Em, "How did you meet Jerry?"
Em yawned, pulling himself away from sleep, "Well, I was doing my daily runs in the Park and I thought I stopped by our place for some grub. That's when it happened: I heard huge rustling and banging of the drums! I had to run to see what it was and I couldn't believe it: I saw Jerry holding a trash can lid against two bright, orange cats! Like they weren't calicos, they were bright orange like them oranges we eat! As I got closer, I noticed those cats were spitting out actual fire and their tails glowed! It was incredible how much a trash can lid can take! Anyways, Jerry managed to defend himself but when he let go, one of them gave him a good fire punch! I had to do something. You know what I did? I ran through the two kitties and started dodging their fireballs at me. Then I grabbed Mrs. Marzka's broken vintage dolls and started pelting them with it. They were so scared that they had to run. Ha, what scaredy cats they are!"
I got up from my bed as I couldn't believe what I heard. I asked, "Wait, so you saved him without a scratch?"
"Pretty much, yeah!"
"Wow," I said to myself. I've known Em to be the fastest person I know and on our team, but to save someone? That's a new side. Then I thought about my friends and how they saved me, including Wilma. Man, am I lucky to have people cover for me and now Jerry has Em as an ally. For all the things my friends have done for me, I've never did a thing to help them back. But how should I repay them? I don't have crazy superpowers like they do...but neither does my dad. What would he do?
The next day, when school was finishing up for the day, Chris asked me if I could walk with him for a while. Caryn's dad came to pick her up as well as Isabel and apparently, Chris's mom had something to do for the afternoon, so it was just us boys. We started for Penn Station and found ourselves stalled in front of another crime scene, with yellow tape all around. These burglaries are still happening? I remember when Em tried to catch the guy and that's when Isabel stepped in.
But I then realized Chris wasn't staring at the crime scene. He was looking elsewhere, but I couldn't figure out what it was. He seemed to be staring at the curb, where people were waiting to cross the street. All of a sudden, the walk sign came on and Chris gasped. I watched as he clenched his fist and growled. "Hey Chris," I asked him. "Are you alright?"
He caught himself and responded, "Oh yeah, I'm alright...let's go! I'm getting hungry! Hey, lunch is on me!"
He carried me to the next McDonald's and we started discussing our day. He mentioned something about Caryn and she became the topic of the conversation. Then it carried on to the discovery about Isabel. Chris joked, "I can't imagine the amount of struggle Isabel goes through to be with a friend like her!"
"I know right…"I trailed off, sipping more of my drink. I looked up at Chris, noticing his distant face. He seemed to be deep in thought and I saw how his eyes squeezed out of agony, like he had just seen a terrible memory. "Yo, are you sure you're okay?" I asked him again.
All of a sudden, he spoke with an aggressiveness, "Do you have to know everything? Why can't you just let me be?"
Feeling insulted by his response, I rationally asked, "Whoa, are you okay? I was just wanted…"
"You know what? I shouldn't even have come here! I knew I should've walked home." He got up and left with me chasing after him. He disappeared into the crowd and I nearly got trampled by the people during rush hour. I soon lost him and lost my own view of him. I went home, feeling confused and startled by the incident. Why would Chris act like that? Is there a memory triggering him? Does it have to do with what he was staring at today? So many questions raced through my mind like a demolition derby and I nearly forgot to give the old man money.
His weak smile brought little comfort to my soul, but I felt good after giving him my last dollar. Before I left him however, he called, "Young boy...come here…"
I walked over to him and knelt down to his level. He rested his hand on my knee and wheezed, "Young boy...you have a good heart...good endurance...come to me for years and never disappoint…"
Feeling loved by his words, I held back my emotions and gave him my gratitude. But he halted me more. "Young boy...my days are minutes now...I have to tell you because...it's a message!"
He coughed and I rubbed his back. I asked him, "What do you mean by a message? Who asked you to message me? Whatever it is, I'll do it!"
"Young boy, your ring will face the strongest force they'll ever meet...and you are the one to save them...be with your brother, your friends, your love...they need you…"
He let me go and his hand slid off my denim knee and onto the concrete. His head drew back and his mouth was left open. His chest stopped compressing and his skin became the palest I've ever seen. Who was he? This year was just getting too weird for me.
I rose up and ran to an officer. I alerted him of the man and he gave me a subtle, curt response, not noticing that a dead man is on the streets. He eventually walked away from my begging and I was left alone and helpless. I turned back and saw the impossible! The man was gone! His money jar, his resting spot was clean, like he was never there! My eyes must be fooling me...was he a ghost the whole time? No, it can't be! I remembered when Caryn insulted him! He had to be real!
Just what the hell was going on?
The next day at school became an awkward moment for me and my friends, especially Chris. Actually, it turned out that Chris took a sick day when he seemed perfectly healthy yesterday! Just what was he doing that was so important? As soon as the final bell rang, I ran straight home and searched up the soccer field where we had our games. There was the forest nearby, where Chris had that fight with that weird tree thing. Arbol-something-o…
There I found it! Em noticed my franticness and asked if he could come along, just to join in the excitement. I refused his offer and I grabbed my bike, pedaling to the max! I had to find out if he was okay...is he okay? Before I could escape the city, I stopped by Chris's new address and rang the bell. The intercom came on and the operator asked, "Who are you calling for?"
I answered, "Pernoit residence."
"Come in," she groaned. The bell buzzed and I ran inside. He lived on the fifth floor because he told me at our last game. I got to his door and knocked on it. The door opened and I saw his mother. She noticed me panting and asked if I was alright. I nodded and asked her, "Is Chris here? I heard he was sick."
She gasped, "Chris is sick? He was totally fine this morning, except when I told him about the intern at my office."
"Yeah," she responded, gesturing me to come in. She offered me some juice and asked me about Chris. I sighed, remembering yesterday. "He wanted to take a walk with me and he just seemed distant, you know."
"Distant…" she repeated to herself. "You know, ever since yesterday, when I told him about the intern, Chris just flipped the switch. He started yelling, 'Oh, how can you do this? Don't you know who he is?' He was just off."
"Off...who is this intern, if you don't mind me asking?"
She got up and left. She returned with a manilla folder and showed me the profile. It was a picture of a guy with a big smile, too big that made his eyes closed, with short, slick dark hair and slight acne around his cheeks. What was so terrifying about this guy? I looked at his name and I caught a potential red flag. His name was Liam Cummingsworth, but his middle name just says "F.". What did it mean?
"I know what you're thinking. I asked him what the F stood for, but he completely digressed it, like it was an unseen typo."
Could be more than a typo…
"Do you know where he might've gone?"
She shrugged. She suggested filing a missing person's report but I halted that decision. I promised her, "I'm going to find Chris and find out what's going on. If anything happens, I want to be there for Chris."
She admired my loyalty and commended me for the trait. She wished me luck in finding him and I rushed off. I kept thinking to myself, "How am I gonna make it to Great Neck by bike?"
All of a sudden, I heard a big boom. I turned back and found it came from the Park. Was that Chris? I better hope it is.
I started pedaling for the Park until an officer stopped me and asked why I was out so late. I told him I was looking for my friend but he barred me from continuing and threatened to phone my parents. I sighed and ended my bike journey. Great, now what am I supposed to do? Wait a minute...of course! How could I be so stupid?
I got to the roof of my building and waited for her to come. Behind my back, I heard the flutter and whoosh of some flames and found Isabel waiting before me. She asked me what was wrong since I sounded panicked on the phone. I explained to her about Chris and she gasped, covering his mouth. "I hope he's safe out there," she responded. "Where do you think he might be?"
"I'm thinking about the soccer field at Great Neck, but I heard something at Central Park...and I don't know if it could be him or not."
"Oh," she shrugged. "That was just someone setting up fireworks. I don't know what the occasion was but these rich people and their tactics!"
I chuckled, finding slight humor in her response. I felt slightly safe that it wasn't Chris. She grabbed my hand and asked, "So where is this field you were speaking about? Great Neck, you say?"
I nodded and she stepped back a little bit, gesturing me to give her space. She crossed her arms to her chest and whisked them open, shrouding herself in a whirlpool of flames. Soon she was engulfed by the fires she has created. I couldn't believe what I was witnessing. This is the girl I knew from elementary school along with her annoying best friend, and she left for France to become this...I was speechless. I was then blinded by the light that ensued with the transformation and I opened my eyes to see the creature that saved me from my near death on that bridge. Her violet scales and her fiery eyes greeted me as she stretched her enormous wings. She got close to me and laid down for me to hop on. I was picky not to touch the little spikes on her back, but her head turned to me and, as bizarre as this sounds, she spoke to me without moving her lips, "It's alright. I trust you."
I held in my nervousness and climbed on. Unsure of what to expect next, I hopped onto her back as she maneuvered herself to the ledge and she started her flight. For some reason, it felt like riding in a plane, except there's a wind rushing back at you. My ears started to feel slight discomfort as we soared through high altitudes but I was okay with it. What I was most shocked by is how many people don't even notice that there is a dragon flying over the freaking city! I mean, come on, people! Get off your damn phones and watch the magic.
Isabel said to me during our flight, "They can't see me because the lights shroud their judgements. They are accustomed to seeing bright lights and don't expect much on the outside. However, there are some who can see beyond the glares. For instance, my science teacher mentioned how we can't see stars in the city because of the bright lights but a classmate proved him wrong by showing him photos of the same two stars that tower over Times Square."
"Oh yeah," I said, remembering the kid. She was in our class for only two months, but she left right before November hit. There was something about her hometown that she had to rush to and she never came back.
After a few minutes of traveling, we finally made it to the soccer field. Isabel dropped me off and told me she would keep a lookout. We knew we were at the right location because we heard yelling and smoke from the forest nearby. "Chris," I said to myself. I ran into the forest and followed the trail of smoke. Soon I found myself at unexpected clearing. That's strange. The forest never had a clearing like that. Especially not this big of a clearing.
The moon hovered over the area and I was appalled at the scenery. The tree trunks were bent from their roots and the ground seemed to be soft, as if it was hit by a meteor or something. I felt like I was walking through a test area that have already occurred. Could this be Chris's doing? Does he have this much power beneath his belt?
Another explosion! It must be him! I ran to the area and saw flames and smoke coming about. Soon, as I hid behind a boulder, I saw the white waves of Chris's cloak. His dark blue hair raised against the wind he created and I could hear his heavy breathing. I heard him as he said, "Damn...I can never perfect it, can I? Just one damn failure that can't seem to push through his own limit! Come on! I know I'm better than this! I didn't force Mananuka to get me out of that hellhole of a world! I am Christopher Fenocles Pernoit! I am the legacy that the Great—"
He was cut off by a sharp pound at the wind. I heard it too and remained on the alert. What was Chris doing at this time of night? Doesn't he know that people are worried about him and who is this Liam guy that he's so worried about? Should I be worried about him? There were many questions that needed desperate answers! Anything could work!
Suddenly, there was rumbling and the trees and branches took form of a face. I knew who that face was! It was that tree guy from before! What was Chris planning to do with him? The tree figure growled, "You've disturbed my slumber, young wizard. What do you want at this unholy hour?"
Chris chuckled, "Unholy my foot! You think those uprooted churches have forgotten what you've done? Anyways, that's not what I'm here for."
This was a different Chris than before. Before, he was kind and funny and intuitive, somewhat like me. But now, he's kind of...evil, I guess. I closed in for a better hearing. The tree monster responded with an intriguing tone, "You seem rather impatient for something. What is it that you need?"
Chris held out his arm to the monster and created a mass of light. I shielded myself from being blinded again and I opened my eyes to see a shiny serrated blade with a striking lightning bolt down along the side. Despite its hefty appearance, Chris seemed to hold it like a weak twig. His face of determination was what really struck me, though. I've never seen him this focused on something, besides the tournament we had last year. It was his first tournament on a sports team and he was oh so nervous, but it was I who helped him build his courage. Chris called out, "Arbolisto, I challenge you to a battle, but not for victory nor a title. I want to be stronger than him!"
"Who, you say?" Arbolisto asked. He gasped, "He has come back? Oh that fiend! I'll rip him to shreds if I see him."
Chris grinned and responded, "I appreciate the sympathy, but this is my fight. I want to prove that I'm a powerful wizard and I don't need his force to help me in any way!"
"What brought upon this sudden ambition?"
Chris seemed silent and looked down at himself. I heard him sigh and I watched as he contemplated to himself. He shook his head with a rage and shouted to Arbolisto, "Just fight me and you'll find out!"
"Oh," Arbolisto chuckled, "Let's not get hasty here, young wizard. Let me get myself prepared...you know, being a plant at such a late hour can be such a struggle."
"Shut up and fight!"
"Alright, if you say so…"
The scenery was quiet for a single second. All of a sudden, the trees behind me were sucked into their plots, creating an oblique hole that my eyes couldn't even differentiate. The ground rumbled as the wave of pressure tunneled to Chris beneath him. I wanted to shout, but I didn't want him knowing that I was here. The ground shook beneath Chris and, with a sign of alertness in his eyes, he stabbed the ground with his weapon, shattering the earth before him. I held onto the boulder as the earthquake rumbled through my area. I checked my phone and found Mom's messages and Isabel's message. I answered Isabel's first, stating that Chris was fighting some tree monster.
I fibbed to my Mom that I was at Chris's for the night. I was hoping that Chris's mom would go along with it. Oh I hope this ends soon...please Arbolisto, stop my friend from this madness! I don't want him hurt!
But they kept going at it. From the impact, Chris seemed to gain height as he was found levitating in the air. More roots shot at him and he was at the ready. He held the blade close to him, the serrated side to the roots and started to spin around like a working coil. Whenever he made contact, there was a sharp line of sparks and the root came back in either pieces, halves or dust. It was amazing how much power he can bargain within himself. How was he able to hide it all this time?
Arbolisto roared and his vines came through like a light. Chris landed on the ground just in time and tried to evade them but he was too slow for them. He was caught by the ankle and it slammed him against the trunk of a tree. He bawled of agony as he was dragged across the rubble of the earth for another slam.
Arbolisto laughed, "Ha! I thought you were stronger than this! Didn't you say that? Or was that to save your puny, feeble friend?"
That's when he got livid. While being carried into the air, Chris took his left hand like a karate chop and, as he swung to it, cut through the tangled vine with a frosty touch, literally. The rest of the vine fell to the ground, turning to ice and shattering like glass. Chris got on the ground and smirked, "Oh, I'm only getting better! And my loyalty to my friends has nothing to do with this!"
"Oh really? What are you good at other than being the only Elemental Wizard upon this planet? And are you good enough to withhold that title?"
"Arbolisto...you've been my enemy for many years. I choose you to be my ally for when I face him and prove my worth as a wizard! You damn well know I'm worthy!
"Ah now…" Arbolisto seemed to be hiding something, but what is it? I looked over to Chris and found that he was mentally preparing himself. He was just waiting for what Arbolisto had in store for him. Arbolisto's voice grew sinister as he shouted, "Initiate Forest Field Force!"
A crack started to form around me, Chris and wherever Arbolisto was. Chris and I both said the same thing. "Oh no…" I was more afraid than Chris was, but I stifled myself from screaming to hide my position. All of a sudden, I lost the surface below me and had to climb the boulder to save myself. Soon the boulder was about to fall in as well and I had to make a decision: do I disturb Chris from his battle or do I find another way to get out while I can?
Time was running out for me and I didn't know what to do. I had to do something, but what? I bit my lip and laid flat on my stomach on the boulder, facing Chris. I shouted, "Chris! Can you hear me?"
But the destruction of the forest was too loud for any of us to listen or even comprehend. Chris didn't even notice that I was here the whole time, but I don't think he can afford to lose his focus for one second. For some reason, I admired Chris for what he was doing. Someone he knows popped into town and here he is, nonstop with all the force he can bring.
Why was he exerting himself like this? Doesn't he know he's gonna hurt himself? Oh no, the boulder's about to crumble beneath me! I grabbed my phone and dialed Isabel to come and grab me. She responded about Chris's whereabouts. I replied that he may be in trouble if he doesn't stop what he's doing! She replied with some gasping emojis and alerted me that she's on her way.
Unable to latch on as I put my phone away, I screamed as soon as the boulder shattered into a million pieces. I didn't know how far the abyss went but it grabbed enough time and space for Isabel to catch me in time with her flight. I thanked her for the lift and looked down at the smoking rubble. There were swipes of sparks flying in one area and we identified them as Chris's attacks. Isabel responded, "Oh no, he's gonna pass out! I have to stop this!"
"But Isa—AAAHH!!" I screamed as she took a sudden drop in the air. The sound of her dive sounded eerily similar to the rev of an engine that's crossing over seventy. How fast is she really going is what I'm wondering. Was it hard for her to grab such speed? We were entering the huge smoke cloud and I was blinded completely, couldn't see a shadow. But, somehow, Isabel could.
The air was stuffy and it felt like my lungs were about to implode from all this dust and debris. Suddenly, I heard a tree snapping and the gradience of the darkness came tunneling over us. I then heard a person grunt as a familiar face joined the ride. He was all bruised up and his cloak was dirty and had tiny rips in them. I came to see if he was okay and I was more than relieved to see that he was breathing and his pulse was normal. Isabel asked of his health and I informed her that Chris was okay. She too was relieved.
I turned back to the scene and saw Arbolisto powering down his rage. I felt him watching me in the eye and he muttered, "He is grateful to have friends like you...stay with him and let me know…"
For a monster who nearly killed me and had a huge battle against Chris, he sure does have a huge heart in him. What am I saying? I just had a conversation with a tree monster...and I also have connections with a wizard and a dragon girl. Damn, don't I have a life!
I suggested that we take Chris back home but Isabel disagreed. "I'm taking him to where they won't question us."
All of a sudden, we changed directions and Isabel reached for the tailwinds. Man, was it an exhilarating ride! Is this what it's like inside of a plane? Ooh, my ears sure don't like it. After a few minutes of flying, we dropped down from the night horizon and made it to a secluded, operating hospital. It was strange. There were a few cars in the huge parking lot and a huge forest that surrounded the area, including the driveway. The hospital wasn't so big, it was almost school-sized. It was hard to believe it was still in operation with almost no one around. Is this where they won't question us?
Isabel slowed down and lowered herself to the lot. I slid off and had Chris fall onto my back. He was heavy, but it was nothing I couldn't handle. As Isabel reverted herself, I asked her, "What is this place?"
"Nite Memorial Hospital," she answered. I stopped and repeated, "Nite, as in Amelia Nite?"
Isabel turned back in confusion and replied, "Yes…"
I gulped nervously and started wishing that I would never see someone who would recognize me. Isabel, concerned about my anxiety, asked, "What's wrong? Do you know this place?"
"Yeah...Amelia Nite was a friend of my dad."
"Oh…" she realized. "That could be a situation."
I chuckled, "Hey, at least we have an excuse."
As we entered, the interior was all white and shiny and new, like it just had its grand opening. There was a round desk that had a wooden countertop with a woman busy at her laptop. Her eyes perked up when Isabel arrived at the front. The woman greeted, "Oh hello there, Miss Englow. How are your parents doing?"
Isabel smiled. "They're doing okay. My friend, uh, he had a session but um…"
"Say no more," she responded, getting up to see the unconscious Chris. "I'll send for a room. Just wait over there and fill out these as best as you can."
"Will do, Sheryl," Isabel affirmed. We went by the cushion chairs and seated ourselves. I felt extremely nervous all of a sudden. I didn't know what to do or prepare for. What if Uncle Dumm comes in and rats me out to my Dad? Oh shoot! My parents don't even know where I am! What did Em tell them? Ah, my life is crumbling before my eyes and I can't even control it!
All of a sudden, I was alerted by someone's warm touch. I turned and saw Isabel rubbing my hand. She reassured me, "Don't worry. Chris will be okay."
I chuckled, feeling comforted by the support. I explained, "It's not Chris. Just this hospital is run by my godfather. I don't know what's gonna happen if he catches me here."
"I've met Professor Dumm and his colleague before. He's kind and understanding. I'm sure he won't rat you out to your parents unless you wanted your folks not to be worried about you, especially Em."
Yeah, she's right. I shouldn't have my family worried about me. I took out my phone and saw a whole bunch of missed calls from my mom. Ooh, she must be real mad. I called her back and, after a few rings, answered, "Hello?"
There was a huge gasp and my mom rambled, "Kellin Paul Kane, where the hell are you? Your brother said you ran off with saying a peep and I find your bike by the apartment! Ay Dios, are they holding you hostage? How much should I pay? What's going on?"
"Mom, Mom," I stammered, managing to grasp her silence. "I'm at the hospital. You know Chris? He had a bad accident and he's here with me."
"Ay no," she gasped. "Is he alright? Should I come? Is there an adult with you? What hospital are you at?"
"Nite Memorial Hospital."
"You're in Jersey?"
I repeated out loud, "I'm in Jersey?"
Isabel chuckled and asked me for some help on the form. I told my Mom, "Let me call you back. They're asking for us now."
I hung up and answered the trivial things I know about Chris. "Let's see...birthday is April 10th...height, huh he's about eye level...well, that! I wouldn't know about!" I joked. I laughed but stopped when I saw Isabel's dismayed reaction. I went back to completing and Isabel remarked, "I'm surprised at how much you've changed, Kellin."
Now that could've gone either way. I don't know whether she was talking about my reaction before or my behavior in general. I mean, we haven't seen each other for three years, so...you never know!
"At first, you're so worried and over the hill when you found Chris like this and now you're joking about…" She looked to where my joke originated and she looked up at me with a disapproving expression. "About that?"
"Hey, grab a little humor, Isabel! At least he's not de…" My confidence fell and so did my serotonin. Isabel grunted, "Oh well now you're getting it…"
"Yeah," I realized as I began to understand the gravity of the situation. I went back to the form and filled it out. I realized that we needed an emergency contact and an adult's signature because we were minors.
"Oh no, what am I gonna do?" I questioned myself. All of a sudden, a shadow emerged over us and I looked up to see a familiar face, not as threatening as I feared it to be. It was my godfather!
He smiled and greeted, "Fancy seeing you here, young man! How have you been?"
He seemed to be unbothered by the unconscious body next to me. I alerted him of it and he chuckled, "Oh I'll check him out!" He looked over his shoulder and called out for his assistants. They came over and carried out Chris in a wheelchair, leaving the scene. Uncle Dumm sat next to me and asked how Dad was. I responded with an uneasy tone, "He's okay...my mom is fine as well."
"Good to know," he responded, letting out a yawn and seemed to be relaxing. Isabel and I became worried at his laid-back behavior. I asked, "Um, aren't you going to help my friend?"
"Yes," he said, staring at the wall. It looked like he was being brainwashed and couldn't fathom reality anymore. Isabel asked me, "I think your godfather's a robot whose switch has been turned off."
"Well then...let's look for an on button."
I tapped his shoulder at least twice and he blinked slowly. He turned to me with a big smile, took a glance at Isabel and asked, "I see you two know each other?"
I stammered, "Uncle Dumm! My friend! Is he okay?"
He got up and went for the double doors where Chris had departed. He looked over to us and asked, "You coming or what?"
We both followed him and saw Chris sleeping with an oxygen mask on. Uncle Dumm observed, "His heart's doing okay, but his energy is almost depleted. It's like a computer than needs a rest once in a while. What has he been doing?"
I shrugged. "He ran off and started attacking some strange tree thing."
"Arbolisto?" Uncle Dumm recognized. "I know him too well. He sends home very harsh victims here...your friend is lucky."
"You know Arbolisto?"
He chuckled, "I guess your father kept you in the dark for far too long. I'm surprised he never told you about Em's origin."
"Oh he told me about Em! How he was made in some lab experiment and that, um he adopted Em to save his skin and yours too!"
I could see Uncle Dumm smiling greatly and his voice nearly quivered, "You are just like him. Always there for his friend and always wondering what is up. I admire you, Kel. How about that girl?"
"Who? Isabel?" I looked over to Isabel, who was admiring some paintings and photos not too far from us. I continued, "She's my friend from school. We've known each other for some time."
"I see…" Uncle Dumm admired. "Might I ask you about something? How do you think she knows about this place?"
"That's a good question…" I told myself, wondering why I didn't ask her that before. She never knew about my godfather and she recently found out about Wilma. I was tired of being blind and resistant to my curiosity. I have to know more about my friends. I walked over to Isabel and joined her in admiring the painting. It was an illustration of what a futuristic world would be like: skyscrapers with people looking out their windows, receiving packages from miniature hovering craft and people walking up to the roof and entering planes to get to their destinations. Is this what Uncle Dumm thought of? Is this what Dad was working on? He sure has a lot of time on his hands with this kind of project.
I looked to Isabel and caught her attention. I asked her, "How come you know this place and my godfather?"
Isabel thought about her answer and finally responded, "A few years ago, I was in an accident. But I guess I should tell you how the accident occurred before I go any further."
She led me to a few chairs near a vending machine and continued, "It was the end of sixth grade and I was noticing that I had problems breathing. That's when I went to my pediatrician and she couldn't find an answer. Then it happened. I was walking from the deli and there was a whole blow of smoke happening and some construction nearby. I found it hard to breathe, or like my body wasn't allowing myself to breathe. All of a sudden, I let out this huge sneeze and before I knew it, the whole street was in blazes! Nobody knew how it happened, but me…"
"Whoa," I slowed her down. "You were the one behind that blaze? I remember now...that fire on um, Eighth, was it? Whoa, and they had to start all over from scratch too, right?"
Noticing her guilt, she muttered, "Yeah...my parents found out and that's when I had to leave for Paris."
"But why Paris?" I felt old memories coming to flood in.
"My folks were from there and they knew about the history of dragons. They broke the news to me that I inherited my dragon powers from my Dad and his ancestors had an operating camp for people like me."
"People like you?" I whispered, grasping what she was telling me.
She continued, "Yeah, they call us humagons. I believe I told you this already. My DNA is shared between that of a dragon and that of a human. It's a long story, but basically I possess the ability to transform into a dragon whenever I want. Like that time, when you fell off the bridge…"
"You came swooping in like a light. I didn't even know whether I was falling or I just lost feeling…" I cleared my throat and finally said, "Thank you."
She was totally caught off-guard by that statement. "What?"
"For what you did that night. I wanted to thank you for saving my life. All this time I didn't realize how much a friend would sacrifice for me because a friend wouldn't do that." I looked at her straight in the eye and continued, "A best friend would do that."
She smiled and we both looked to Chris's hospital room. "And you have another example of one, I presume?" she asked me. I shrugged and responded, "Maybe…"
We walked to the gesturing Uncle Dumm and we were relieved to see all vitals were functioning properly, all except for his consciousness. "When will he wake up?" I asked him.
He seemed indifferent and sighed, "Shouldn't be too long now. He beholds a special power that speeds up his body's recovery."
"A special power?"
"Chris is an Elemental Wizard," he explained, "a mastery of all the forces: fire, water, earth, you name it. The power I speak of is called a Healer's Force. The name should explain itself that it is used to heal the user or the user's partner if needed. However, it's more power to heal the user than the partner since he is the one to generate it."
"Oh," I responded, feeling like my mind has become more open now. "Uncle? Is Chris the only one?"
Uncle Dumm looked down to his feet. "That, I cannot answer for confidential reasons."
"What? Confid—But Uncle!"
"I'm sorry, the research at the Labs are to be kept a secret until further notice. I can't release information like that." He went from open and friendly to all of a sudden, like I crossed the line or something. Before I was able to say anything, Isabel pulled my shoulder back. She was letting me know that I have to let it be, that it's his job. And so I did. I skipped off to another topic, one that was on my shoulder since that encounter.
"Do you know about a certain civilization?"
He looked at me with suspicion in his eyes. "Elaborate."
I sighed, not feeling the need to sugarcoat it since I can trust Isabel with this. "A few days ago, when I got home, I noticed Em was knocking on my window like a crazy person. I was wondering why and he told me about this guy named Jerry. He was a purple rat and had these awful burns on his body. Luckily, the Cortizone worked but he had more to tell."
"Really?" He seemed like he was remembering as he grabbed a chair and leaned close for more. I continued, "So Jerry said that long ago, a bunch of men in white coats came storming into his village. He didn't know why because he was a baby but they somehow took his brother and one of those men might've been my father…"
He snapped before I could reach the next sentence. He got up and left, returning with his laptop. He logged on and asked me what the name of the person was. "Jerry Mousinez, I believe?"
"The Mouse Guards, I remember their story! It was the first area where civilization was found in the New World," Uncle Dumm read as he typed in the credentials. I was confused. New World? Isn't that what they called America?
The man laughed as he realized how bewildered we were. He explained, "Decades ago, when your father and I were just college freshmen, a brave man named Charles Gallagher discovered a vortex that can lead into another dimension. We name it the Portal."
"The Portal?" I questioned.
Isabel joined in, but with a different approach. "Yeah, the Portal...my parents were telling me about this, including an area where it was forbidden to say the Queen's name."
"The Queen?" Queen Elizabeth?
"Queen Kairaniga," Uncle Dumm shuddered. "Oh wicked woman…"
"Whoa, wait? What's going on here?" I asked. "Did you or did you not invade the civilization that Jerry was in?"
Uncle Dumm answered with ease. "No. We didn't even have white coats back then! Charles Gallagher and his team probably have his brother."
"Well, Jerry told me that he wouldn't rest until he found out where his brother is!"
"Ha, tough luck finding that one out!"
"How do you mean?"
Uncle Dumm faced me. "Gallagher runs a much larger firm that spreads around the world. It won't release where exactly he found this civilization since the Portal can open anywhere but not the place you'd expect."
"It means we're gonna have a hard time looking for Jerry's brother," Isabel explained. "If we could only scope out the exact location of where the invasion took place, then we can track down where they went with his brother!"
Her optimism reminded me of Em, how he was all for finding out that thief. Oh shoot! What is he doing now? I haven't talked to him since I ran off to find Chris! "So," I said to Isabel. "We have to find Jerry, but I don't know where he ran off. After he had that scuffle with those firecats, he left before my parents even got home."
I turned to Uncle Dumm and alerted him not to tell my Dad. He accepted the commanded and gestured his silence. After we had that downpack, we were startled by moaning. I turned around and saw Chris waking up. He was confused by the oxygen mask and the IVs in his arm. I ran to him and greeted him. Uncle Dumm hovered over me and removed the mask. Chris sat up and smacked his lips. He muttered, "What happened?"
"Chris," I asked him. "What is the last thing you remember?"
"Um…" he stammered, focusing on his mind. Isabel joined us and said, "Well, at least he's awake."
I agreed with her and he caught an epiphany. "I was fighting with someone and...and it was Arbolisto. Why was I fighting him?" He gasped, "Liam!"
He tried to jump out but backed off as soon as he learned that he had an IV attached to him. He was astonished and whispered to me, "Is this an…? Did I really go that far?"
"You are the one to save them…" Words of the old man rang in my head like a soft bell. I'm the one to save them? What does he mean?
I looked up to answer Chris but Isabel jumped at the chance. She explained, "It was Kellin who found you and I had to grab you before you brought anymore damage to yourself."
"Damage to myself?" he questioned. He laughed, "Please don't worry about me, Isabel. I'm an Elemental Wizard. I can heal myself as much as I can."
"Think again, blue hair!" Uncle Dumm remarked. He got up and sternly spoke to one of my best friends, "You come here like a dead light and expect to heal yourself? Did you forget that besides being a wizard, you are a human being? You can't risk your body or else you're somebody's pixie dust and a weak one too!"
I've never heard him speak like that. It was either Dad or Aunt Amelia who would use that tone, but I guess someone had to fill in the shoe. My other best friend and I watched him as he continued to yell, "How dare you have so much confidence but yet nothing to present to the table! What kind of wizard are you that you can't even handle the force you possess? Shut it, I'm speaking! Not only did you put yourself at risk with this stunt you pulled, but you let your two closest friends be worried sick about you and one of them had to stop your mother from filing a missing person's report! Do you realize what's going on? You can't fight this alone! You need them! Please! Swallow your pride for a minute and talk to them…"
He stood up straight, turned to reach for his laptop and left the room. He poked his head through the threshold and asked, "I'm ordering tacos. Y'all want?"
"I'll take one," I accepted. Isabel chimed in as well and he left before Chris could make a decision. It was just us, us three. Isabel remarked, "Wow, so what a night!"
Chris chuckled, "Yeah...what a night. Hey Kellin?"
"Yeah?" I responded. Chris sighed and said, "I wanted to say sorry. Sorry for being a jerk to you and having you go on that wild goose chase. Had you not been there, I don't know what would've happened!"
"Hey, hey! Don't put all the credit on me! It was Isabel who caught you in time! Had she not been there, we both would've been pulverized by Arbolisto. By the way, why were you going to the extremes for?"
"Yeah," Isabel said. "You nearly wrecked the entire forest! I'm surprised that I was able to handle that turbulence!"
Chris chuckled, "Yeah...um, Kellin, you may have some insight on this. You see, before I was adopted by the Pernoits, I was a runaway kid. I used to be with the Fenocles, a strong powerful family of wizards. They all had their own element that they've mastered: my dad was a Thunder God, my mom was an Aqua Maiden and my brother...well, he was a case on his own. He and I were deciding our magical path and I suggested that I should be the Master of all Elements, you know, a challenge. He took it too but he was dealing with another group about that. They were handling forbidden magic and I had to tell someone before it was too late. Then the unthinkable happened…"
We leaned in for more and Chris confessed, "He killed them. He got so angry that he used his own dark magic and killed them right there...I couldn't stop him! He was so possessed and engulfed in his own power that he lost control. I had to run away and I promised myself that I would avenge their deaths and show Liam just how powerful I am to be the Master of all Elements."
We were both astonished at the story. We all had crappy lives, but they seemed so much brighter than Chris's. It was hard to believe that my own best friend could have such a horrid past. Oh, how can he do this! I slammed the bed with my fist in such anguish. It shook the room like a seismic wave and I growled, "How can a brother do this? Why can't he just accept the consequences?"
"Kel," Chris said to me, shocked. He resumed in a compassionate manner, "Kellin, he couldn't control it. Forbidden magic is extremely danger—"
"To hell with danger! He needs to be taught a lesson and we're gonna help you!" I brought out my fist and angled it towards Chris's chin. I held a smile and a sense of confidence that I never felt before but I could easily recognize from someone else. Chris looked astonished at first and slowly, he allowed himself to latch onto my fist and affirm the mission.
"We're gonna find Liam and make sure he knows his place," I exclaimed. I started to calm down when I asked, "Wait, why would he come now?"
"Who knows? Maybe he's planning something."
"Yeah, we can never be too sure."
Unce Dumm came back with two packages that held our food. One was given to me and the other to Isabel. Chris was given no food but Uncle Dumm didn't seem to mind as he casually walked out. The hungry wizard crossed his arms and grunted. Isabel and I stared at him for a moment and she started, "You know, you can't get everything on your own."
"Yeah," I agreed. "We don't know how powerful Liam is, but what we do know is just how talented you are in your wizardry."
"And we won't stop supporting you in every way we can until it's over."
Chris smiled and responded, "Thank you. Listen, I'm sorry I put you through all that trouble just for me. I guess I let my anger get the best of me."
We both agreed, breaking off a piece of our taco and gave it to Chris. He took both pieces and said, "I'm glad to have two very close friends to me. Even though I may not know you as well, I will be there for you no matter what."
We spent that night, ensuring Chris's safety, until my parents came to pick me up. I came into the backseat with a worried Em. He grabbed me and hugged me as hard as he could. He squealed, "Oh Kels, Kels, Kels! Am I glad to see you alive! I didn't know what to do when you ran off like that! Are you okay? What happened? Tell me everything!"
I chuckled, letting go of his tight hug and explained briefly, "Chris went off the grid for a while and I wanted to make sure he was okay. Man, were we lucky to get there in time!"
"Why? What happened?" Em was intrigued and worried. I tried to come up with a better explanation, but my exhaustion was too much for me. I said I would explain later and I drifted off to sleep. Em petted my head and agreed, "Yeah, get some sleep. You probably had a worse day than I did, running after Chris like that."
As they drove on, I started to think about what I said to Chris. The way I got his confidence and earned his respect like that, it was the same way Em portrayed himself before I turned him down. Why was it different? For Em, I just assumed that he was getting ahead of himself because I was pushing away all the things that seemed like a dream or a one time thing for me. Then the words of the old man came through...I am the one to save them but from what? What can I do? There were so many questions that I needed answers for and I don't know how much time I would have to find them. I think I need to apologize to Em for the way I've treated him...but how do I make it up?
I got it! I can ask for his help to face Liam. He would be a great addition! Plus, it would be our thing to help our friends against forces that we know not of. But what of Jerry? How is he doing? Should I tell him what I know or not? No, I shouldn't get him riled up over nothing. Uncle Dumm's probably already working on the coordinates for the location.
Yeah, I think I got everything covered...hopefully.
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