Jack and the Knight Stones
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Is it safe?
A simple question. A simple question demands a simple answer.
That I cannot give. You will just have to read to find out yourself.
I only have this to offer: Be prepared.
I wasn't . . .
CHAPTER 1--A DEER TAKES GYM CLASS
The bird-creature crowed bloody murder and attacked.
I threw my hands up to defend against the flapping feathered fiend as it struck with razor-sharp talons and pecking beak. I dropped the grain sack which hit the ground and exploded in a shower of chicken feed. The rest of the hens flew in, feathers flying as they dove greedily for the food. The proud Plymouth Rock Rooster backed off and cocked its head at me. It opened its beak, but instead of "bok bok bok," it spoke in a gravelly voice sounding like a mob-boss from a gangster movie, "You dirty, double-crossing rat. Next time you hold out with the grub, I'll have yer eyes served up on a platter!"
I hate feeding these miserable egg-laying peckers!
Scrambling for safety, I tripped over a multitude of the feathered piranhas swarming around my feet, landing on my butt. With one hand protecting my peepers from the pecking flock, I crawled my way through to the open wire gate and kicked it shut behind me with the sole of my shoe. I plopped shakily down on a nearby hay bale and checked for any deep wounds. Ok, nothing that a good dollop of iodine (ouch!) and a hundred or so bandages can't take care of. My face glistened in a stinging sweat, the smell of fear lingered in my nostrils. Did the ruling rooster of the henhouse just cackle in English?
It can't be happening again.
The haunting memories came back in a flash. It was the day that marked me forever as the weird kid at my former school. It was bad enough I resembled a leprechaun with my blood-red hair and skin the color of Casper the ghost. Yup, I had the looks that begged bullies to pick on me. The fact I had an IQ worthy of Stephen Hawking's admiration and maybe even make Artemis Fowl squirm uncomfortably didn't help me in the friend department. I always skewed the class curve when it came to grades. You know what? I don't care. That was my vengeance against those intellectually challenged by the system who scorned me.
Nature is usually stingy when it comes to given out her gifts to mankind, but for some reason or other, she was gracious towards me. Little did I realize just how much she had bestowed upon me.
It did no good to take my troubles home to the parents. Da always shrugged it off as a life lesson learned (lesson? what lesson? I was bullied for God's sake! what can I learn from that other than how to run away?). Mom would just give me a big smile and a cookie, soothingly saying something useless like, "You'll get past this stage someday, dear." Really? I might not survive to see that day! How about some advice able to help now?
Things couldn't get any worse for nerd-boy, or at least I thought. Then came the day that took a turn into the Twilight Zone: an animal spoke to me in human-talk.
It happened during lunchtime on a Friday, which was traditionally bring-your-pet-to-school day. I just finished scarfing down my first taco when a drooling runt of a fleabag sitting at its owner's feet at the table behind, drilled me with one of those longing puppy-dog stares, its brown eyes as deep as a vat of chocolate, and barked, "Hey, how 'bout a little something for the starving mutt here?"
I jumped out of my seat faster than I could scream (which I did). My lunch tray went flying, its greasy contents raining onto an unsuspecting Miss Congeniality, the always smiling Sunny Lane.
The fiery stare she gave should have set me on fire. Every eye in the lunchroom locked on me, faces froze in a look of 'oh-my-god-look-what-he-did-to-our-class-president!' I went straight to the bottom of the popularity barrel with that move. Sunny made it her mission to make my life a living hell at school. Jokes flew around the halls at my expense.
And this was only the beginning of it.
Ever hear of the Netflix series Stranger Things? You know, the science fiction horror drama about odd happenings to a group of kids? Well, that was fast becoming my life at this school. Unexplainable phenomena became the norm in the classroom, starting with my lab experiments going a little bonkers and producing weird results. It wasn't long before even the teachers whispered among themselves about the peculiar child in seat number 13.
Then the big life-changing event happened: I blew up the science room.
Being a brainiac and a bit of a mad scientist when it comes to chemistry, I just invented a new non-carbon-based fuel made from saltwater and dead fish with a pinch of chemicals thrown in for good measure.
Bwa-ha-haaa! Take that all you overpriced, rip-off gas stations!
Running the witch's brew through some tests, strange twinkling lights appeared over my beaker. Thick, purple smoke spewed out of the opening like an erupting volcano, filling the room with choking fumes and a very ripe fishy odor. Students ran gasping for the door as I hurried to the sink to dump the stinky contents. The fluid sparked and hissed, making me think I just created a liquid Fourth of July sparkler that ignites on its own. Out of the thick haze floated chilling words that froze me in my tracks, "Die, Magic Boy!"
Magic Boy? Clearly after the wrong person here.
The flask glowed like a nuclear reactor, and I knew I wasn't going to make it to the sink on time, so I hurled my experiment. Before it hit the target, the decanter exploded with a bright flash and pounding force. It blasted out all the windows in the classroom and sent me hurtling outside. I landed smoking in a pile of dung compost being spread in the gardens by a very surprised Horticulture class.
Smell ya later!
Luckily, nothing was killed but the school's finance budget, and my time at this place as I was promptly expelled forever. My father asked no questions, but immediately packed the family and belongings up and moved to a new place. A new beginning.
Hi, my name's Jack Legend, a fourteen-year-old New Age Nerd. I've suffered some bad nicknames along the way, but I'm proud of my nerd status, especially after Bill Gates and Steve Jobs made it cool to be one. Today is my first day of school in Salem, Massachusetts. I had hoped the incident feeding the chickens this morning nothing more than an over-active imagination paired with first-day jitters about being accepted as normal.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
My parents weren't in a position to own the little nuances that made life easier. Case in point: no car. I had to rely on shoe-leather express to get me places. The nippy autumn skies darkened with bruised clouds of purple which began to sprinkle. Great. No umbrella either. A sudden wind kicked up, giving me a new hairdo. Ok, my hair was already a mess, well past needing a trim. If nothing else, the airy gusts helped it out.
A cold chill, wait, scratch that, make it an arctic blast swept through me, and I turned into an ice sculpture (ok, not literally). Above in a nearby maple tree perched a big raven glaring at me. Once I could move again, I shouted at the sinister-looking bird, "And just what are you looking at?"
The raven cocked its head one way, and then the other. It stared hard at me with beady black eyes that seemed older than time itself. I felt something ancient behind that gaze, something witnessing both good and evil doings since the dawn of man. I squirmed uncomfortably under that knowing look.
Ruffling feathers as if it was giving a shrug, the fiendish thief-of-shiny-trinkets cackled, "BEWARE!"
My mouth opened wide enough to catch flies, maybe even hummingbirds. The talking raven blinked out of existence. I gulped. Did that just happen? I quickly scanned the horizon for anything to be wary of, but the most perilous thing in view were two squirrels fighting over an acorn. Hey, I once witnessed a squirrel chew its way through a plastic recycle bin in search of food. Ask the man missing a finger if they're not dangerous.
Bare tree limbs hung like skeletal arms reaching for my head while I trudged along. With a weathered hickory stick in hand I had picked up, I nervously clacked the vertical spires of a rusty spike-topped iron railing. On the other side of the corroded, ivy-strewn barrier was a vast leaf-filled area dotted with large, shadowy stones of all shapes and sizes, some of them half-fallen over from neglect or vandalism.
A dilapidated wood sign hung on the entrance gate. Squinting at it, I read the faded white words carved there: The Burying Point.
"Great, a cemetery, my favorite place in the world . . . not," I grumped. The skies grew angrier like nature was peeved I dare diss the sanctuary of the dead it lovingly blanketed.
I hastened my steps to get past this creepy place.
A sudden crunching of leaves from inside the graveyard made me stop dead in my tracks. Ghouls escaped from the grave, craving boy-brains?
Movement caught my eyes. From behind the enormous statue of an angel greeting any who entered the hallowed grounds, three monstrous shadows lengthened towards me as a trio of skulking figures emerged. An evil fog boiled forth and reached for my face. A rancid smell of burnt tires and, ugh, thousand-year-old ashtray breath attacked my nostrils.
My stomach lurched, and I'm pretty sure my face turned a sickly green.
Half-smoked cigarettes flew at me, flicked by the loitering beings. The nearest one stepped into the meager morning light. A wiry frame covered with steely muscles, he was dressed in a dirty-gray t-shirt, jeans with the knees ripped out, and a black leather jacket. He had a cruel, brutal face and an oily black mullet haircut. He cracked his knuckles in anticipation and his lips twisted as if he just tasted something rotten, sneering, "Fresh meat!"
Nope, not zombies. but degenerate teen bullies hanging out smoking and who knows what else in the cemetery.
Another beefy retch from the other side of the tracks had a bumpy noggin defined by a military crew cut. From his ear lobes dangled jade-green dragon earrings. Non-matching clothes fresh from a Goodwill bin hung on his burly frame. He snarled through nicotine-yellow teeth, "Looks like we caught us a pipsqueak here."
Uh-oh, what did I walk into?
The last teen could have been a mafia don's kid the way he dressed. All spiff and polish from the muddy-colored hair slicked back with grease to his Gucci tennis shoes. Sporting a pair of $1.3 million-dollar Sweet Circus jeans with back pockets crusted in diamonds and rubies, an oversized t-shirt and black Givenchy hoodie with a white skull above a pair of wings embroidered on the chest, and a huge gold chain necklace, he was quite the dapper dude. He held up a sheet of paper, looked hard at the picture displayed a moment, then looked even harder at me. He finally stabbed an index finger out and barked, "He's the one . . . get 'em, boys!"
Terrified, I switched to my alter-ego, Fast Freddie, turned tail and raced down the path for Da Vinci's School of the Future with the teens giving chase, howling like wild hyenas in pursuit of their prey. If they caught up to me, I wouldn't be 'fresh meat'. . . I'd be 'dead meat'.
I could feel the trio of doom closing in and my skin prickled like icy fingers poked me. Something wasn't right about those three. The adrenaline pumping through my muscles kept me mere steps ahead of the hounding bullies.
Racing out of the woods, a Gothic granite-block cliff stood against the stark autumn background. Da Vinci's School of the Future. Hmm, seems more like 'School of the Past', a place where the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Werewolf prowled. My breath came in terrified gasps as I ran, like I had been chased hundreds of miles by ghosts.
I leaped the steps two at a time and bounded under the granite beam above the entrance bearing the chiseled words:
ABANDON YOURSELF TO CHANCE AND CHAOS, YE WHO ENTER
I exploded through the oaken doors and slammed it shut behind me, hammering the deadbolt home. Safe! I looked up expecting to see three enraged faces glaring back. What the heck? The three goons had vanished. Right on my heels one moment, gone like farts in the wind the next.
I turned from the entrance doors and walked towards the principal's office to wait for it to open so I could get checked into the school, have a locker assigned, and be given a list of my scheduled classes. I passed by a dark corridor opening into this hallway and three pairs of glowing red eyes suddenly appeared, watching me intently.
A cold voice spat, "Thought you outwitted us? Guess again, punk."
Crap! Who are these guys?
I immediately put it into high gear and rounded a corner, the low-level light in the hallway revealed a pair of doors at the end. Crashing headlong through them, I found myself in the gym. Behind me came the cry of predators closing in. I dashed across the waxed hardwood floor, reaching the dark alcove on the other side. The corridor leading to the locker room. I hustled into the deep shadows as the doors to the gymnasium burst open and a howling, black wind with three pairs of red eyes roared towards me.
Bursting into the dressing area, I saw all the lockers were locked. No place to hide!
Wait. Along the back wall . . . a huge bin filled with dirty towels, jockstraps, and other unmentionables. That'll work, uh, if I don't gag from the smells of old armpit and sweat. I dove into the reeking stack and squirmed down into the dank nether regions, pulling stained athletic cups and damp, stinking towels over my head. Chest pounding in fear, I prayed like I never did before. My heart leaped into my throat as a strong gust of hot sulfurous air blew angrily into the locker room and three monstrous shadows reared ugly heads on the wall in front of me. I gazed through a small gap between sweaty socks as the terror trio stepped into view.
Mullet head called out menacingly, "Helloooo? Come out, come out wherever you are!"
"Yeah, it's only a matter of time before we find you," crew-cut boy rumbled.
"The longer you make us wait, the worse your punishment will be!" threatened the teen wearing enough hair spray to bounce away incoming meteors.
Footfalls of my doom grew nearer until they stopped short of where I hid. "Where'd that twerp go?" glowered the bully with the outdated mullet.
"This way," hissed the goon with the military haircut, pointing down to a fire-exit door at the end of the hall.
I listened, afraid to even breathe, as the steps stomped away.
I waited a while longer to make sure the teens out to do me bodily harm had left the locker room, the building, and hopefully, this planet! I heard the exit door open and close, pushed the towels aside, and stood up.
Like a demon rising from the darkest depths of Hell, the bully with the bullet proof hair and gold chain materialized from the shadows before me.
"Gotcha!" he snarled, his breath hot on my face, a gob of spittle on his lips. He grabbed me by the scruff of the neck. "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature . . . or in this case, her kids!"
"Mother Nature had kids?" I questioned. What the heck is he talking about?
The other two thugettes appeared out of the gloom like malevolent spirits, one gripping a very beat-up-looking doctor's bag, which he dropped to the floor. It made an ominous clinking noise. In my mind, I saw tools of torture in that scary-looking satchel and gulped at the horrid images they conjured up.
The scumbag with me in its grasp sneered, "Mother Nature had hundreds of kids. Most are beneficial to the world, but a few of them embraced the dark side of nature. You know, those little things like forest fires, earthquakes, deadly weather? That's us!"
"But . . . but that's impossible! You're talking crazy talk," I blurted.
"Is it now," the bully replied. His eyes rolled back into his head. In their place roared an angry fire, the empty sockets glowed with miniature nuclear explosions. His mouth stretched wide, baring teeth in a ghoulish smile as he said, "My name's Wildfire, punk."
The bully with the bad mullet stepped into the faint light, the dark holes where his eyes previously sat now replaced with a furious hurricane blowing in one and a tornado sweeping through the other. My hair whipped back as he neared, saying, "I'm Storm, loser."
The thug with the military cut took a step forward, his vacant pits filled up with earth that cracked open as faults rose and fell while the terra firma under my feet trembled. "They call me Shake-an'-Quake, chump!"