Rebirth of Heroes - The Awakening

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


What if something happened that devastated your home town? If you had the chance to save only a few of the people you care about, who would it be? After a mysterious explosion rocks the small,
rural town of Cedar Rivers, the vast majority of the population disappears. In their places are horrific, bloodthirsty creatures, rising up from the depths of a place of nightmares. The few
survivors left in town all seem to have awoken incredible, amazing special abilities. The Awakening follows these survivors as they band together to figure out how to use their new powers before
the monsters overwhelm them.



-Based on the mobile game, Rebirth of Heroes

Submitted: June 12, 2018

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Submitted: June 12, 2018

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Chapter 1

The autumn sun beamed down with unfamiliar intensity. With barely any breeze to breathe life through the dusty, quiet neighbourhood just north of Cedar Rivers, two boys huddled beneath the shade of an old oak tree. One boy, having barely turned 17, sighed deeply before squinting and whipping a jagged, near-baseball sized rock at an empty soda can. A resounding wooden thud echoed across the neighbourhood, as if the boys were the only two souls around for miles.

“That one doesn’t count. It’s so hot. I’m literally deep frying in my own sweat,” Hayden muttered, trying to wipe the sweat from his face. Instead, he smeared dry, sandy dust over his brow. His earth colored, slightly too-long hair drooped around his eyes, clinging to his forehead with clammy acceptance of defeat.

“It does too count, and don’t say literally when you mean figuratively. People will think you’re crying wolf,” Lewis responded. Being six months younger than Hayden provided Lewis more than enough motivation for him to try to outdo Hayden in any challenge possible. Lewis gripped a thin, smooth rock and found his footing as if he were pitching at a major league baseball game. His bright blue eyes sparkled for just a brief moment before his body zipped forward like a whip. A metallic crack rang out, and the soda can that had taunted the boys went sailing through the air like a rocket.

“Like I said, I’ll be the most famous military sniper once we’re out of highschool. With your aim, you’ll just have to stay back in the office processing spreadsheets,” Lewis smirked, trying to hide the pride for his unmistakable skill.

“As if they’ll need snipers! I’ll be developing remotely operated mechanised ground troop replacements. Once I get my designs recognized and built, I’ll be famous as a military genius. You’ll be stuck sweeping floors,” Hayden shouted proudly, as if trying to get the whole town to hear him. His voice seemed muffled by the heavy, oppressive heat. The boys chuckled to each other. Hayden could almost see the gears in Lewis’ brain kicking into over-drive, trying to think up another aspiration to put him ahead in their never ending game of one-upmanship.

Just as Hayden swatted a fly that buzzed past his ear, the sliding back door of Lewis’ house shot open, nearly shattering.

“I got ‘em! Here!” a young, energetic voice yipped.

“Jason! Be careful with the back door. Remember how pissed off mom and dad were the last time you broke Lewis’ parents’ back door!” Hayden scolded his little brother.

With arms full of soda cans and weathered, tattered boxes, a pale skinned, jet-black haired boy stumbled out into the sunlight.

“Yeah, sorry! Man, it’s so hot today! Anyway, look! I found the old parts you were looking for!” Jason chimed excitedly, ready to receive his big brother’s approval. Just before the young boy lost his balance, the two older boys rescued the cans of soda. Lewis cracked open his drink and sipped slowly, as Hayden tore his can open and gulped down the soda in seconds.

“Good work, squire. Now let’s see what’s in those old boxes,” Hayden said, excitedly grabbing for the small boxes Jason had brought with him. With a promising jangle of metal, Hayden flicked open the boxes to discover what treasures lie in wait. His eyes glimmered upon seeing the small motors, gears, and other mysterious mechanical parts.

“Hey, be careful!” Jason shouted, “Don’t damage the boxes! If dad finds out I went through his old stuff, he will kill me.”

“You’re being paranoid. Dad doesn’t care about that old stuff anyway. He only cares about spreadsheets and stock prices. He won’t miss this stuff,” Hayden reassured Jason with the kind of nonchalance that only an older brother with a guaranteed scapegoat could flaunt. Hayden began to separate the potentially useful metal bits from the junk.

“Okay. Anyway, I double checked the schematic that you drew up and I think you wrote the transistors as 600mA by mistake. I mean, if you just add them up, you’ll end up frying the circuits, so I think you meant 300mA, so I just thought you might want to double check it,” Jason spoke, pulling a crumpled, folder paper out of his pockets.

“Wow, I wish I had a useful minion like that,” Lewis said with genuine awe before trying to hide a deep belch. Hayden unfolded the old paper and squinted hard, double checking his little brother’s corrections.

“Not bad, squire. Now hurry up and drink those sodas so we can cash in the cans,” Hayden patted the hair on his brother’s head then belched as loudly as he could. Jason seemed to giggle with excitement at his older brother’s praise.

“After you graduate and join the army, you’re gonna hire me to work on robots with you, right?” Jason jumped up excitedly, trying to drink his soda, but ended up spilling sparkling grape all over his shirt.

“Yeah, of course, but first I need to ace this project. What do you think, Lewis? How many more cans do we need before I can afford those transistors?” Hayden poured another drink down his sweat soaked face.

“My bladder feels like it’s going to explode, so this is probably enough. Come on. Let’s bag ‘em and tag ‘em, boys,” Lewis lumbered across the parched lawn, picking up the stinging hot cans that had taken in the abusive sunlight.

“I can go with you guys, right?” Jason chirped excitedly, already moving to grab his bike.

“Sorry, dude. If something happens to you, mom and dad are gonna be pissed off at me. Just stay home,” Hayden said sternly, wincing as he picked up cans from the pavement. The hollow aluminium scraping across the ground echoed with disappointment. Jason shrunk back into the shadows, nearly in tears.

“Hey, come on,” Hayden reassured Jason, setting his hand on his shoulder, “we’re gonna spend all of next weekend at X-Cite World hanging out together. Even Bettie will be there. We’ll go on all the rides you want.”

“Twice?”

“Sure.”

“Three times?”

“Of course. If you don’t puke.”

“Okay, deal.”

“You’re not having any chilli dogs before going on roller coasters. I don’t want another repeat of last year,” Lewis said, slinging the garbage bag full of tin cans over his shoulder.

“You’re just a pretend brother,” Jason laughed, “you can’t tell me what to do.”

Hayden smirked to himself, knowing he would always be able to cheer up his little brother. Jason returned home as Hayden and Lewis took off on their mountain bikes. Hayden glanced over his shoulder again and again as he rode away, each time seeing Jason in the distance, waving to them.

It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence in the town of Cedar Rivers, even in the age of computers and internet, to see young men on the cusp of adulthood, banding together and speeding through town on bicycles. It was as if decades of cold, uncaring onward marching of technology had somehow overlooked this small, mountain town. Riding through town on a bike, one could breath in fresh air, filtered by towering pine trees, see old men with banjos and guitars sitting on their front porches, smell freshly baked pies cooling on the window sill of someone’s grandmother’s house, and pass by children playing hopscotch or jumping rope in the street.

The two boys passed by all the locals they had known for their entire lives, both comforted and frustrated with such small and familiar lives they had experienced up until that point.

“One day, we’ll get out of this town.”

“We’ll join the army and travel the world.”

“We’ll do something great and make something of ourselves.”

It had all been said a million times before, and in a small, intimate, and timeless place like Cedar Rivers, it would likely continue to be said for years to come. The two boys made their way to the grocery store where they traded in their soda cans for a princely sum of sixteen dollars and seventeen cents. There was more than enough for Hayden’s transistors, so after visiting the electronics shop, the two boys stopped by the sandwich shop for their regular Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches, and even made sure to bring one back for Jason.

On the way back home, the boys passed by an old, weather beaten billboard for X-Cite World, boasting about new, exciting rides. The two boys looked to each other with excitement, knowing what an action-packed weekend they were about to enjoy. With hearts pounding, they picked up the pace and raced each other home.

By the time they had reached their neighbourhood, the sun had just about set, yet the sky was filled with a radiant, volcanic glow. Hayden returned home to find his younger brother sitting excitedly on the front porch, legs kicking the air, waiting for him. Hayden handed Jason his reward for being patient: the best Philly Cheese Steak sandwich west of the Mississippi. Together, they worked on Hayden’s school project together until the sun had fully set, and their mother came home.

At 46 years of age, more color had left Nancy’s earth-colored hair than one would expect. With each passing day, her eyes grew more tired, and the smile that curled up at the sides of her lips drooped ever so slightly but surely. Still, nothing brought the smile back to her face quite like the sound of her two sons talking excitedly about projects they were working on together.

Later in the evening, the sound of an old truck could be heard, sighing its way into the driveway. The voices in the house became soft as Rod, a man of 48 entered the home.

“Hi honey,” Nancy greeted her husband.

“Hi.”

“How was the day?”

“Fine.”

“How did things turn out with the Johnsons’ tractor? Did you manage to get it running?”

“Yep.”

“You’re working at the sandwich shop in town tomorrow, right? Doing something about the plumbing?”

“Yep.”

Dinner crawled along at the same agonizing pace as had been the case for the last four years. When their daughter, Bettie, moved out on a cold January night, she took with her an air from the home that never seemed to replenish itself. The clanging of knives and forks on ceramic platers echoing through the home spoke more words than any human there. It was just another Sunday night for the Blacksmith family. After dinner, Rod retired to his office with newspaper in hand. Nancy huddled over her sewing machine in the dimly lit family room, finishing the tailoring of dresses for the upcoming high school dance, desperate to make just a few extra dollars. The two brothers walked down the hallway and past the doorway to an empty room where their sister had once lived, then each to their own rooms.

It was an unusually humid evening, with a terrible, choking kind of air, pervading the Blacksmith home. Hayden could not discern whether it was better or worse to have his window open. He tossed and turned for what felt like the entire night, all the while hearing the deep clickety-clacketing of his mother’s sewing machine in the other room like a kind of mechanical lullaby, until fatigue finally set in and he drifted off into a guarded sleep. The night gradually quieted down into a buzzing hum, with the wind gently brushing against the old oak tree in Lewis’ backyard next door.

With a sudden, rumbling boom, Hayden was jolted awake. As if shaken out of a peaceful dream, he jumped out of bed, nearly landing on and destroying the school project Jason had helped him finish the night before. Hayden stumbled around his room, struggling to regain his balance. With a ringing in his ears, his room seemed to be filled with an unfamiliar, burning light. Was it the sunrise? No. Hayden guessed he had possibly left his ceiling light on all night. He found his way to his wall light switch, only to find that the power was out. After managing to regain his footing, he realized he must have imagined the light. Then again, what was the loud sound? Was there a car crash outside? It didn’t matter. He simply needed to get cleaned up and dressed for school.

Other than the power blackout, his morning routine went forward as it had done for the past three years. It was the only time of day he would have true peace and solitude at home. Jason would not be awake until after Hayden left to catch the school bus. His mother and father would have already left for work in the miserable hours of the morning. Hayden tried to microwave some dinner leftovers for breakfast before remembering that the power was out. Without too much time to waste, he poured dry breakfast cereal into a sandwich bag and figured he would just eat on the way to school.

Hayden carefully packed his school project into his backpack and rushed for the front door before remembering he had left his math and English homework on his bedroom desk. He ran back to his room and just about leapt over the entire length of his bedroom floor to avoid the scattered small mechanical motors, servos, and salvaged old circuit boards; all of which he was certain he had neatly put away the night before. As he left his room, he noticed the wall poster of his favourite rock band had been torn. Hayden bought the poster at a concert he and Lewis had attended about a year ago. He just about kicked himself realizing he must have bumped into the poster as he stumbled out of bed. He tried to straighten up the poster, gauging how well he would be able to tape it back up before he noticed the flashing red alarm clock light next to his bed. At first he thought the power was back on before remembering that his alarm clock runs on batteries. Flashing “12:00”, the alarm defied Hayden’s logic. How could the clock have reset itself when Hayden clearly remembers watching the time as he drifted off to sleep? It would have to be a mystery for another day.

Hayden rushed out of the house, slamming the door behind him. He would normally try to close the door quietly so as to not wake up his younger brother, but a thick, pervasive smell of burning rubber and plastic nearly knocked him off his feet as he stepped outside. Fine specks of ash and soot wafted down around him as he stepped off his front porch into a world he did not quite recognize. Gone were the subtle, golden sunrise and crisp morning air that normally completed Hayden’s morning ritual. In their place were hazy, corpse colored clouds and an inescapable, sweaty pressure.

Confused, Hayden ran straight to the middle of the street and threw his head left and right, searching for any house that may have been on fire. No, the houses on his street were intact. The sky was too hazy for him to see if there were dark clouds of smoke rising from any particular direction.

“Oh, shit! The bus!” Hayden shouted as if on impulse. His feet hit the pavement as he raced toward the street corner where he would be picked up every weekday for school. Each footstep seemed to hit the ground with an unfamiliar intensity. His heart raced completely out of rhythm with his steps, and for a moment, he worried he might be suffering an allergic reaction to the smoke in the air.

He slid to a stop at the corner of Hayworth and Clementine, grasping the street sign that symbolized both a comforting familiarity and an undefiable signal to his impending imprisonment at school. Much to his shock, he wasn’t winded or fatigued at all from his mad sprint down the street. Sure of having just a minute to spare, Hayden tore open his sandwich bag filled to the brim with cereal, spilling some of it on the ground. As he poured his breakfast down his face with reckless abandon, he noticed the few pieces he was spilling on to the sidewalk. With nothing else to do while waiting for the bus, he stepped on the dropped bits of cereal, listening to the deafening crunch resonate across the neighbourhood.

Hayden found himself transfixed, hypnotized, and somehow fascinated by the incredible sound the crunching cereal was making. He even stopped chewing to listen ever so closely. Without even a slight breeze blowing, or a car engine in the distance, or a bird stretching its wings somewhere off in the distance, the only sound Hayden could hear was a delicate, subtle, crunch. He held his breath. The crunch seemed to ring out like a gunshot.

“Hey! Did I miss the bus?” an unfamiliar voice called out, shocking Hayden out of his trance. He jumped back with his heart racing, nearly dropping his bag of cereal.

“What? Uh, no. It’s still not here,” Hayden stuttered, trying to shake off his blurry daze. Before him stood a young girl about his age, hair tied back tightly revealing a pair of confident, enthusiastic eyes that could certainly see the promise of an exciting future after highschool.

“Cool. I thought I was going to miss it! My alarm didn’t go off this morning. You live down the street, right? Did your power go out?” the young girl spoke clearly, stepping close to Hayden. He flinched for a moment, both out of surprised and of invasion of his personal space.

“What? Oh, yeah. Our power is out too. Weird, right?” Hayden steadied himself, studying the girl’s face. He wasn’t absolutely certain who she was and started to feel the guilt resting upon his shoulders gain weight, since it was clear she recognized him.

“Yeah, I hope there isn’t a fire somewhere causing problems,” the girl said, craning her neck around the street corner. “I haven’t heard any cars passing by this morning so far. Don’t you find that suspicious?”

Hayden followed her deductive gaze as she examined the long stretch of road around them. He had never met anyone his age who spoke with such matter-of-fact assuredness; he wasn’t sure if she was an actual grown up who was pretending to be a teenager.

“Oh, I guess you don’t really know me. I live down the street about 8 houses down. I mean, not like I counted or anything, haha. I’m Latisha,” the girl laughed, finally showing the clumsy charm of a teenager. She extended her hand with a smile. Hayden felt compelled to accept her handshake without any reservations. He had never even known such an attractive girl lived so close to him.

“Oh, uh, hey. I’m Hayden. It’s cool to meet you- uh,” he stumbled over his words as he forced a deep, masculine voice.

“Haha, I know. We have the same Math class after lunch,” she giggled innocently. Hayden’s face flushed red, and his gaze dropped back to the ground to see the crushed and shattered bits of cereal that lay scattered across the sidewalk.

“That’s alright,” she reassured him, “we sit on opposite sides of the room so I don’t expect you to remember me.”

Hayden tried to look up to make eye contact, but the shame of embarrassment weighed on him like the burden of the entire world.

“Okay, yeah, sure. I’d love some cereal,” Latisha chimed.

“Huh? What?” Hayden stuttered, finally able to look Latisha in the face.

“Haha! I know, it’s like I can read your mind. You’re embarrassed you don’t remember me and you’re not sure what to say, so eventually you were going to get nervous and just offer me some of that dry cereal there,” Latisha spoke with a calming, genuine voice, as if she had already experienced a lifetime of mediating and negotiating.

“Uh, haha, yeah. Sure, would you like some cereal?” Hayden could not help but feel comforted and laugh in return.

“What a gentleman. Thank you! I woke up late so I didn’t get breakfast either.” Latisha poured some of the breakfast cereal into her hand and daintily picked at it, one piece at a time. Hayden watched her, suddenly feeling embarrassed for having just thrown the cereal down his face hole by the handful. “Anyway, shouldn’t your friend be here at the bus stop too?”

“What? Oh, Lewis! Yeah...” Hayden snapped to attention, having just realized that the morning was breaking routine more and more as the minutes marched by. “That is pretty weird. He’s never late for the bus. Now that you mention it, the other kids aren’t here either. It feels like we’re the only people on the street.”

Hayden’s words echoed around them like an avalanche. The two lone figures, surrounded by swirling ash and an ever darkening fog, turned back to back, looking all around them, desperate to lock eyes with whatever danger was certain to meet them. Hayden could just about hear each of their heartbeats, pounding between them like drums out of rhythm and time with each other. Who else was out there? Was there anyone else who would join them? Would that bus ever actually arrive?

They stood, seemingly frozen in time, watching the fog creep closer and closer. With each passing breath, the air seemed to get ever thicker. No, there was no avalanche that would envelop and consume them. Instead, there was something far worse; the unknown. The minutes continued to march, and as the sky darkened even further, Latisha finally spoke.

“Hayden?”

“Yeah?”

“The bus isn’t coming, is it?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Should we go home?”

“I think that’s a good idea.”

 

Chapter 2

Ever so slowly, one step at a time, Hayden and Latisha walked back down the street, away from the abandoned bus stop, back toward the homes where they would surely be safe. Whether by fear, uncertainty, or the thickening of the blinding, grey fog, the two small figures inched forward, unable to see any of their surroundings. It could have been hours or even days by the time they reached Hayden’s house. Dwarfed by the swirling clouds all around, the house seemed much smaller and meagre than Hayden had ever seen it before. Hayden and Latisha locked eyes. With a stern look of understanding, in a silent moment completely independent of the need for words, they gave each other a nod and parted ways.

Hayden crept slowly back into his house, unsure of exactly what to do next. His mind was a swirling, stormy globe of questions. Should he figure out a different way to get to school? Should he call his parents? What kind of excuse can he invent to visit Latisha at her house? How was he going to get her to share her phone number with him? Where was the fog coming from? Where were all the other people in the neighborhood?

His eyes locked onto the living room phone like salvation seeking missiles. Setting his chin into his palms, he tried to meticulously organize the questions in his mind, but the dull, subtle headache he awoke with was clinging on. He was certain he should call his parents but it was as if the telephone was so overwhelmingly heavy. His body simply lacked the conditioning and strength required to pick up the phone. His mind wandered back to Latisha and how she might be doing. Logically, he wondered how Lewis would react to Hayden having made a real female friend who seemed cool. His mind drifted, thinking about how great it would be for all three of them to hang out together.

“Oh! I gotta tell Lewis!” Hayden shouted out loud, snapping himself out of his daydream. He leapt off the couch and out the front door, again, being nearly pushed into the ground by the oppressive pressure of the smoky air. With his eyes wide open in shock, he stopped in his tracks. Was the air somehow getting even heavier? He made sure the front door was shut tight, hoping to keep the rotten air out of his home. Without wasting a single moment, he strutted next door to his best friend’s house, thinking of just the right way to brag about his new girl friend. He reached the weathered wooden door and found the same spot upon which he had knocked for just about his entire life. His knuckles found that familiar spot, with the paint worn down and peeling, not from weariness, but with a warm, familiar welcome that reassured him that there would always be a safe place somewhere in the world. He felt his hand connect with the door, and heard that predictable, gentle rattling sound. But something was different this time. The sound was deep and heavy as the door trembled in fear. After flinching, Hayden looked at the spot where he had always knocked. There, as if a bullet had lodged itself in the guts of the door, wood splintered outward in pain. When did that happen? Who did that? Hayden spun around and scanned the street for any sign of life, only taking a few seconds to accept that he was alone. The door certainly wasn’t damaged the day before. Did someone break in to Lewis’ house?

Hayden’s mind lit up with every kind of worst case scenario he could possibly imagine. “Lewis!” he screamed out in half a panic, catching himself a moment later. He quickly realized he should try to keep his voice down in case the burglar was still in the house. Rage and a sense of hurt filled up his heart as he ducked around to the side window of the house. Who would possibly be rotten enough to break into his best friend’s house? What if the burglar had hurt Lewis and his parents? He thought about what he would do to punish anyone who brought harm to someone who was just about nearly his brother. He needed to call the police. He needed to call his parents. He needed to make sure Lewis and his family were okay.

There’s just too much to think about. Don’t think about anything. Just do something. Hayden pressed his face up to the dusty window, peering in to the living room. He could just about smell the dinner from the night before, with a hint of cinnamon apple pie for desert. Was there anyone there? It was too dark to see clearly. Maybe there was a shadow moving around.

Hayden cupped his hands around his eyes as if forming a pair of see-through-window binoculars. Yes, there was definitely someone moving around inside the house. Was it Lewis? Was it the burglar? Just a little closer. If only just a little bit more light could leak in through the shutters. Just a moment longer and Hayden would be able to tell who was there, shuffling around the shadows of the house. The world became dull and cloudy. Hayden could not hear a single thing; not even the sound of his heart beating, nor his heavy breathing upon the old glass window. Silence.

With an almighty slam that could have woken up the entire world, the window pressed up against Hayden’s face rattled. No, it wasn’t just the window. The entire house trembled as if an earthquake had just hit. Hayden instinctively jumped back, losing control of his arms and legs. He landed flat on his back. What the hell did he just see? He definitely saw something, but he simply could not understand it. Despite his struggling and fighting, he could not close his eyes, and he could not pick himself up from the ground.

There it came again: another terrible, deafening slam. Hayden imagined the entire house falling in on itself. The window rattled, promising to shatter in just a moment more. What did he even see in there? It defied everything he understood to be real. Was it some kind of cat or dog? Maybe it was a lizard? Did Lewis’ parents come home with a new pet last night? No, if something exciting like that happened, Lewis would have definitely let Hayden know immediately. The cloud of trauma lifted from Hayden’s mind as the window slammed against once more.

He finally had an idea of what it was that he saw. Just moments earlier, with his face pressed up against the glass, struggling to make light of the darkness, he saw a pair of yellow eyes, bloodshot, hungry, and full of rage. They were the size of something that just shouldn’t exist. It couldn’t be Lewis, or his parents, or a burglar. There was some kind of animal in there.

“Shit!” Hayden screamed, willing himself off the ground. He couldn’t just leave his best friend’s family in there alone with a rabid animal. He needed to do something. With his hands still trembling, he regained his footing, only to be knocked back by a devastating crash. With countless flashes of light, the window shattered into just as many pieces. Before Hayden could shut his eyes and put his arms up to protect his face from the shards of glass, he saw something that simply could not exist. There, reaching from of the murky darkness, clawing its way through made-up fantasy stories and horror movies, was a shivering, slime covered arm. Its muscles rippled terrible. Its over-stretched veins pumped and trembled, barely able to keep whatever rancid, black liquid was inside from bursting out. Long, blood stained claws forced their way out of thick, muscular masses of flesh that must have been the creature’s fingers.

Hayden felt the glass hit him. The claw reached out for him, only missing by what felt like the width of a hair. There was no time to figure out what that thing was. In a horrified panic, Hayden shut his eyes and screamed, letting his legs and arms automatically carry him somewhere, anywhere, away from that nightmare. By the time he regained his senses, he was back on his couch, facing the phone. There was no time to mess around. Still trembling, he dialled the first and only phone number that came to his mind.

Ring.

Ring.

Will anyone answer?

Ring.

Ring.

Please! Anyone answer!

Ring.

Ring.

“Hello?”

“Mom? Mom, it’s me!”

“Hayden? Honey, what’s wrong? Didn’t you go to school?”

“Mom! There was no bus! And there’s no other people! And there’s this animal- like a weird, crazy big animal! It’s inside Lewis’ house! I don’t know! I think it got them! And I think there’s a big fire somewhere or something? Can you come home? Please! There’s something really wrong!” Hayden could barely control his own voice.

“Honey, please. You know I can’t just leave work.”

“Mom! Please! I’m scared! Can you and dad just come home please!”

There was a moment of silence. Nancy could not remember the last time she heard Hayden’s voice so afraid and hurt. Maybe. Not since four years ago.

“Okay, just stay in the house. I’ll drive you to school and give you a late note for your teachers, but I have to let my co-workers know. I’ll be home as soon as I can. Call your father.”

Those last three words echoed around in Hayden’s head, ringing back and forth until they became so loud that he could hear nothing else. Call your father. He suddenly found something more terrifying than any monster.

“Mom, please! Can you call dad?”

“Hayden Blacksmith!” Nancy pressed firmly, “It is busy here at work and it is hard enough for me to just leave like this. You know we are barely getting by. Now just do what I say. Call your father. Tell him what’s happening and ask him to come home.”

A moment of silence.

“Okay mom.”

“I love you, honey.”

“Love you too, mom.”

Hayden sat for what felt like all day, watching the gaping, empty mouthpiece of the phone, finding solace in the dull hum of the disconnected dial tone that filled his ears. He almost could not remember his father’s phone number. The numbers on the phone felt like they were locked in place, fighting back, nearly impossible to push.

Ring.

Ring.

Ring.

Ring.

“The number you are calling is not available.”

For a moment, Hayden felt an uncomfortable relief, knowing that he wouldn’t have to speak to his father. No. He couldn’t give up. He had to save his best friend from that animal. If his father was there, he could use one of his hunting rifles to kill the animal. He had no choice. Yet he could not shake the fear of speaking to his father. He rarely ever heard his father’s voice these days. He barely heard him speak last night during dinner. That’s right. Hayden’s mother mentioned his father would be doing plumbing work at the sandwich shop in town. Hayden knew that number off by heart.

Ring.

Ring.

What if no one answers?

Ring.

Ring.

Oh no.

Ring.

Ring.

“Sammy’s Sammies… who is this?” a worried voice came over the phone.

“Uh, it’s Hayden Blacksmith. Is my dad there?” he felt his heart racing, trying to leave his chest.

“Thank God there’s someone else out there. It’s good to hear from you, kid. Here’s your dad.”

“Hello?”

“Yep?”

“Dad? Is that you?”

“Yep.”

“Uh-” Hayden’s entire body locked up. His mind completely numb, he lost the ability to put words together. What was he even supposed to say to someone who just doesn’t talk?

“What’s wrong?”

“M-mom said to call you. There’s- uh- a big animal- it got into Lewis’ house and it’s tearing everything up.”

“You didn’t go into my office, did you?”

“No.”

“You didn’t touch my guns, did you?”

“No.”

There was a moment of silence, followed by muffled shuffling over the phone. Amidst the chaotic noise, Hayden heard someone shout, “Wait! Rod, please don’t leave!” With a resounding click, Hayden was able to breathe again.

All he had to do was sit at home and wait for his parents to come home, and everything would be alright. His parents worked in completely opposite directions in town. In fact, they couldn’t work any farther apart and still be in the same town. Who was closer? Who was going to come home first?

Hayden sat on the living room couch, frozen in place, frozen in time, until the sound of an old truck could be heard, sighing its way into the driveway. Even as the front door creaked open, and footsteps slinked through the house, Hayden could not take his eyes off the telephone. He heard clinking and clanking from his father’s office. With an old, neglected looking rifle in arm, Rod reappeared in the room, standing between Hayden and rest of the house. He stood for a minute, maybe two, maybe ten, before he took a seat next on the couch next to Hayden. Adjusting the gun between his folded arms, Rod set a paper bag down on the coffee table in from of him. Another indeterminable amount of time seemed to stretch on forever.

“Ready?”

“Yeah, okay.”

With his eyes locked on the ground, Hayden kept his head low while following his father’s footsteps. They made their way to Lewis’ house, watching the broken window in case the animal tried to make an escape.

“Dale! You home?” Rod called out. Even when yelling, Rod’s voice seemed strangely quiet.

The two men carefully found their way to the patio before finding the front door, splintered into pieces, swinging in the wind.

“Oh, shit.”

“Watch your language.”

“Sorry, dad.”

“What kind of animal did you say it was?”

“I don’t know. Something weird. It was covered in slime and it had an arm.”

“Hayden. I’m serious.”

“I’m telling you what I saw.”

“Hey, Dale. You home?”

“Lewis! It’s me! Are you there?”

Silence.

“Hayden. We’re going in. Stay behind me.”

Hayden shuffled close behind his father, stepping closer and closer to the doorway of the home in shambles. He struggled to fight back the fear that he might potentially see his best friend dead, killed by a wild animal. He clenched his fists tightly, wishing he could have a weapon like his father, so he too could protect himself and the people he cares about from the world around them. Instead, he was helpless.

“Help.”

“Someone help us.”

Hayden’s headache suddenly cleared, but in its place, he swore he could hear someone whisper directly into his ear. He quickly spun around to see that he and his father were indeed alone. There was no one there who could possibly be talking to him.

“Please! Help!” the voice desperately, faintly called out.

“Hello? Who’s there?” Hayden answered with utter uncertainty. Even his father stopped to see who Hayden was talking to.

“Hayden? Is that you?” the voice started to become more clear.

“Yeah? It’s me. Who’s there? What is that?” Hayden shouted, looking left and right.

“Who in Sam hill are you taking to?” Hayden’s father muttered, scratching his stubbly beard.

“We’re in trouble! Please help us! Hurry!” the voice in Hayden’s ear was loud and clear. He finally recognized the voice. It was Latisha’s voice, but she was nowhere in sight. Still, Hayden could swear she was right next to him, whispering to him.

“Where are you? What’s wrong?” Hayden shouted up into the cloudy sky. His father watched in complete exasperation. Was his son going crazy right before his very eyes?

“There’s a weird animal in our house! Hurry!”

“I’m on the way! Dad! It’s my friend, Latisha! She’s in trouble! Come on, let’s go!” Hayden shouted. Without hesitating, Hayden sprinted out into the street, each of his steps pounding the pavement like jackhammers.

“No, not that house.” “Not that house either.” “Three more houses on your left.” Somehow, this whispering voice stayed clear in Hayden’s ear.

Hayden spun around, looking back to see that his father was not behind him. He scolded himself silently for just a moment, angry for reasons he could not fully understand. Why did he think he could rely on his father? Why did he think his father would listen to him and believe him anyway? There was no time to worry. Standing before Hayden was a robust, newly stained mahogany front door. The doorknob and hinges seemed to have been polished to perfection.

The voice of Hayden’s mother echoed in his mind, and years of training good manners wrapped around his body like iron shackles. Was he supposed to knock and wait for someone to answer? Should he doorbell? Should he shout to Latisha? How was he even certain she was home? How could he even hear her voice?

“Please hurry!” the voice whispered into his ear, quivering with unsteady reception. As soon as Hayden set a trembling hand on the doorknob, he heard screams of terror cry out from within the home. Those screams were way too clear, and much too close. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed something odd about the French style Windows. He was in such a rush that he had not noticed before, but he could clearly see the windows had been smashed in. Something was definitely wrong. Without even so much as a plan, a weapon, or understanding of where he was going, he flung open the front door and rushed into the home.

If there hadn’t been such calamitous disarray, the home looked like it could have been polished with cinnamon to pristine perfection. Hayden had never seen such a regal looking room in all his 17 years.

“Hayden!” this time, Latisha’s voice rang out with actual sound.

“Look out!” a deep voice bellowed. With an antique looking wooden chair gripped firmly in hand, Arthur stood firmly between the shadows and his daughter.

An unseeable shadow whipped forward, crunching the chair to pieces and knocking Arthur down onto his back.

“Hayden! Help!” Latisha called out, not with panic, but with a sense of direction and confidence.

Hayden stood, dumbfounded at what he had just scene. A muscular and proud man who stood nearly as tall as a barn had just been swatted away like an insect. The offender was no animal Hayden had ever seen, or much less even imagined. No, it couldn’t have been an animal. When the creature jerked its head at an impossible angle to glare toward Hayden, the unarmed boy recognized in a fraction of a second that it was the same creature that was in Lewis’ house earlier that morning. Its bloody, yellow eyes seemed to have the power to paralyse Hayden in an instant. There, caught between beams of light streaming in through freshly torn curtains, stood a monster in the truest sense of the word.

The beast turned its head back to Latisha, backing her into the darkest corner of the room. The muscles on its back rippled and twitched with uncomfortable ferocity, as if trying to tear out through the skin. With a sudden burst of speed, Hayden’s body dashed forward as if moving on its own. After a quick glimpse at the ground, Hayden reached down amongst the rubble of the family room and grabbed a solid glass ornament, nearly the size of a baseball. Without thinking, without hesitating, Hayden whipped his arm forward, and the glass ball left his hand like a bullet blasting forth from the barrel of a gun. In an instant, the projectile hit its mark on the side of the creature’s head without a fraction of an inch off target. For just a split second, Hayden could not help but think to himself, “I can’t wait to tell Lewis about this!” The creature flinched and stumbled, shattering a glass table holding a framed photo of Latisha and her family from what must have been at least 4 years ago.

With only a second to breathe, Latisha darted around the creature, sprinting past her track and field trophies and swimming medals from years past. In the span of a single heartbeat, the creature regained its balance and leapt toward Latisha. Its greasy, oily claws reached out in a moment of time that seemed to grind forward in slow motion. In this moment, somehow, Hayden was able to see clearly. He saw Latisha running toward him. He saw Latisha’s father struggling to pick himself up off the ground. He saw the creature just inches away from dragging Latisha back into the shadows. There was no time to look for a weapon, and there was no time to call for help. Hayden knew he had to do something, knowing well that it would be in vain. All throughout growing up in that small neighbourhood, he was never superbly strong or accurate. Those were always Lewis’ strong points. Yet in this moment of complete and utter panic, it did not matter.

Hayden clenched his fist as tight as he could and willed his body to move forward faster than he had ever moved in his entire life. He could see his fist jetting forward, barely missing Latisha’s face by mere inches. He felt the air rippling around his fist as if the friction was just about enough to tear away the skin on his fist. He could feel the muscles in his back and legs straining as if he had never used them before in his entire life. Exactly how fast was he moving in this moment? The look on Latisha’s face showed him that he was the only person in the room who could even perceive his movements in that instant. He could not help but take a moment to look at the rest of the family photos hanging on the walls. Maybe he was imagining things, but it seemed clear that as the people in the photos grew older and older, there were no longer family group photos. Instead, only single photos or photos of Latisha and her father together. Before Hayden could give it anymore thought, his fist connected with flesh and bone, and where he expected to feel pain and agony, he felt a sensation more similar to that of a mosquito bite.

With impossible force, the creature’s body twisted into a sickening shape, slamming back against the far wall of the room as if a semi truck had just ploughed into it. Where Hayden expected to feel a sense of exhaustion or fatigue, or pounding of his heart, he instead felt a surreal sense of tranquillity.

“Holy shit!”

“How did you do that!?”

“Hurry up! Let’s get out of here!”

In a flurry of arms and legs, Latisha, Hayden, and Arthur scurried out of the ransacked home, out into the pale, draining daylight.

“My house is this way! Follow me!” Hayden shouted. He could feel the blood pumping through the veins in his arms. There was no time to second guess himself. By the time Hayden came to his senses, he was back home in his living room. Latisha and her father were struggling to catch their breath. Hayden’s father, on the other hand, was sitting at the kitchen table with a newspaper and a mug of coffee.

“Thank you. You saved our hides back there,” Arthur managed to say in between his gasps.

“You’re welcome,” Hayden said, remembering his manners and giving Arthur a nod. He couldn’t remember the last time he had guests other than Lewis in the house. He turned to look at his own father. Hayden’s blood began to boil inside of him. He wanted to scream at the top of his lungs. He wished he could say, “Where were you? Why weren’t you there to help me?” He wished he could tell his father he hated him. He wished his father would say anything in return. But instead, his father calmly stood up, leaned forward on the kitchen table, titled his head down to peer over the top of his glasses and said, “Hi Art. Everything alright?”

“It’s been a while, Rodney. This is my daughter, Latisha,” Arthur answered, stepping toward the kitchen table.

“Looks like you met Hayden. Coffee?” Rod spoke with such indifference. Hayden could not tell if his father was acting this way just to get on his nerves. How could his father act so calm after what just happened.

“Please,” Arthur said, making his way to a seat at the table as if it were an old, regular seat, “I don’t suppose you were able to get in contact with the police.”

“Nah.”

“Call didn’t go through, huh?”

“Yep.”

“Is that old rifle loaded?”

“Yep.”

“How’s Nancy? Is she alright?”

“Should be.”

Should be? SHOULD BE!? How could Hayden’s father be so distant and insensitive? They could have just died. His mother could be in danger. That weird creature could be coming after them. If not for Arthur and Latisha, Hayden would have exploded. More than anything else, he wanted to let his father know exactly what he thought.

“It’s okay, Hayden. Don’t be angry. Just stay calm,” Latisha’s voice whispered into his ear, outside of the room, outside of time and space, and outside of logic. No, she hadn’t spoken at all, but Hayden could hear her as clear as a bell. Hayden turned around slowly, trying to believe what was happening. With a quick check, he understood that their fathers did not hear her speak.

“We need to figure out what’s going on. Please don’t start a fight with your dad right now.”

“How are you doing that? How can I hear your voice?” This time, it was Hayden’s voice that could be heard without being heard.

“I don’t know. It started happening just today. What about you and your abilities?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Didn’t you see what you did to that monster?”

Without warning, the front door flung open. As it slammed against the back wall, Hayden and Latisha were jolted to attention, filling their brains with a crippling, high pitched squeal.

“Hayden! Are you alright!?” Nancy called out, throwing her purse to the ground.

“Mom!” Hayden answered, shaking off the ringing in his ears.

“Oh, we have guests. Arthur! It’s nice to see you. Does anyone have any idea about what is going on out there?” Nancy’s fading hair was teased and harassed and she was desperately out of breath, contrasting with bullet proof person that Hayden always knew his mother to be.

Hayden wanted to rush over into the arms of his mother, to seek her reassurance and feel comfort and safety, but he saw Latisha out of the corner of his eye.

“What happened, mom?” Hayden spoke, trying to keep his voice calm, unsure if he was speaking aloud or somehow whispering with Latisha.

“I... I don’t know how to explain it,” Nancy muttered, wringing her hands with trembling fright.

“Good morning, Mrs. Blacksmith. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Latisha. Hayden, my dad and I were attacked by some huge mutated animal. I suddenly found out I can talk to people without saying anything and Hayden was somehow able to punch that animal across our entire house. I have the feeling we are not the only two people who have awoken today with weird abilities. Does your morning sound something like that?”

The entire room fell silent, with eyes locking on to Latisha. Hayden could not believe what Latisha had just said out loud in a room full of adults. There was no way Hayden’s parents would believe what she was telling them. Nancy’s jaw dropped. The crashing sound of a mug hitting the kitchen floor shot out throughout the house. Rod stepped into the living room, walking unsteadily in a way that Hayden had never seen before.

“Nancy. What happened to you on the way here?” Rod was barely able to say. It was as if the dense, crushing air of the outside world was rushing into their home.

“I... I can’t...” Nancy could not speak as she fell into her husband’s arms, and for the first time in four years, Hayden saw his parents together. Together.

Arthur leaned in close, softly muttering something unheard into Rod’s ear while pointing at Hayden. Rod gave his son a curious look before gently holding his wife by her shoulders. They locked eyes for a moment. The air seemed to drain entirely from the room when Nancy finally spoke.

“Hayden. Where is your little brother?”

 

 

-Based on the mobile game, Rebirth of Heroes


© Copyright 2018 J. R. Oliver. All rights reserved.

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