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I once asked my father if monsters exist. I had been reading an old book of fairy tales, the kind wrapped in ornate, dark brown book-covers and overflowing with scary stories. The stories had freaked me out, and I could not sleep with the lights off.
In answer, my father quoted an old writer who had said something like, “Of course monsters exist. Every child knows they do. The fairy tales tell us that monsters can be beaten.” Little did I know that I would grow up to fight those monsters.
If someone had told me I would not only fight the monsters, but also be instrumental in stopping one of the greatest monster uprisings in modern history, I would have laughed in their face. I was nothing special. I was not a “chosen one” who was fated to save the world. I never felt some special calling to join forces against the darkness.
I have lived and lost much. I have seen darkness rise like a tsunami from the ocean and swallow much of the world. Betrayal and hurt, triumph and joy have all attached themselves to my life in unimaginable ways. The following is my account of what happened. May those who read it never forget.
A pale blue SUV rolled up to the front of the high school. John Blackstone sat in the passenger seat, gratefully breathing in the cool air of the SUV. It’d been a painfully hot summer, even by Michigan standards, and the heat hadn’t broken by September like it usually did. Even if it had broken, the humidity was making everyone avoid the outside as much as possible. John was no exception.
“John, do you hear that rattle every time we idle? I think it’s from the air conditioner,” said his father. “I’m going to take it into the mechanic today to check it out. I may not be able to pick you up from school.”
John shook his head and rolled his brown eyes. “Whatever, Dad. I’ll walk home. You’re usually late, anyway.”
The line between his father’s graying eyebrows deepened into a valley, and John braced for another argument. Granted, it was one he’d started.
Instead, his father said, “Just make sure you’re doing well in your classes. I don’t want this to be like the last school. You almost didn’t graduate eighth grade. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes,” John answered.
“Yes, what?” His father countered.
“Yes, Sir,” John said. His father liked to feel like he was back in the military.
“Good. Make sure you go to the principal’s office first. He’d like to speak with you,” His father said. “I’ll see you tonight.”
John exited the driver’s side, grabbed his camouflage backpack, and walked toward the school. He sighed. John loved his dad. He really did, but his father had changed since their mother had died. Now, all he did was work at the hospital and then come home and drink.
Besides, it wasn’t like John had tried to get kicked out of the last school. He’d just given the other boy what he deserved. Fighting seemed to be one of the few things he was good at. That, and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Unlike the last school John attended that stank of must and mildew, this one impressed him as very new. It even had that new building smell. As the smell wafted toward him, he wondered what gave off that scent. Was it some sort of chemical they used?
His dark brown eyes rested on a large blue and brown wolverine, the school mascot, that’d been painted on the wall. It bared its teeth and stood, ready to pounce. Behind the mascot stretched a blue line which was painted in all the hallways. Fine black and white tiles lined the floor like a chess board.
To his right, the entrance spilled into an immense atrium several stories high. John involuntarily moved into it and turned around just to take it all in. Safety glass guarded the railings around each floor. At the top, a huge skylight flooded the atrium with early morning rays. His eyes ached at the brightness of it all.
John breathed in the room for a few moments and then walked to the left-hand side of the atrium. An office worker was talking on her telephone at the entrance window. John’s heart jumped a beat or two as he saw her. She looked too young to be out of high school, and John loved the way her blond hair framed her pale, oval face.
John stood at the window as nonchalantly as he could and fought the urge to stare. Girls didn’t like it when you stared at them. It made things awkward. He should know. He was the king of awkward.
“May I help you?” She asked. Even her voice was beautiful. It lilted like chiming bells. “Hello?”
John suddenly realized she’d been talking to him. “Uh…Hi,” John said, “My name is John Blackstone. I’m looking for the principal. I’m a new student here, and my father said the principal wanted to see me.”
She smiled a beautiful set of white teeth at him. “He’s in his office. I’ll let him know you’ve arrived. My name is Emilee, by the way.” She walked to the office a several feet behind her desk and peered in. “Mr. Watkins, the new student has arrived.”
Principal Tom Watkins walked from his private office into the main office. Upon seeing John, the principal scowled and waved him in.
John hoped that the principal wasn’t mad at him. He didn’t want to start out on the wrong foot. He’d had enough problems at his last school.
During the last school year, a bully had decided that John looked like a good victim. He’d “accidentally” hit John with his shoulder in the halls, pretend to spit in John’s hair, and make fun of him. John was a patient guy, so he let a lot of it slide until the end of the term.
One day, the punk pushed him into his locker. John pushed him back, and a fight broke out. John had tried to be careful not to hurt the kid too much, but he did punch the kid in the face a couple times.
In the end, John sported a black eye, and the kid lost some teeth. No one else messed with him the rest of his time there. Problem solved, right? Wrong. Principals don’t take it well when you knock out their kid’s overpriced teeth. Go figure.
John looked at his reflection in the door’s window of the principal’s large office and combed his straight, chestnut hair with his hand. It was about the only thing he could do with it. He opened the door, walked in, and sat down across from the principal. A large photograph of a perfectly manicured garden perched behind the principal’s bald head.
Mr. Watkins studied a paper on his desk. He looked up, and his small eyes narrowed into smaller slits. John did his best to smile appealingly.
“Well, Mr. Blackstone, it seems you had some trouble at your last school. You like to pick fights,” Mr. Watkins paused to swallow and continued, “We will not have a problem like that here, will we?”
“No, sir,” John said, “I don’t know what my record says, but I didn’t pick that fight. The other kid just attacked me. I was defending myself.”
“It takes two to tango,” Mr. Watkins answered, eyes narrowing. If they narrowed any further, John was sure that they’d disappear. “You’ll find I run a pretty tight ship here. I don’t want any more shenanigans. Do you understand me, son?”
John sighed for a moment. “Yes, sir,” he said. In his experience, adults always liked it when you said the word “sir.”
“Good. Our student aide, Emilee, will give you your schedule and your tablet computer. Your first class will be ninth grade American History with Mr. Franklin in room 108. That’s right across the atrium and down the hallway.”
John picked up his backpack and made his way out of the principal’s office. Emilee was waiting for him with his tablet, which he grabbed quickly as he tried to think of something cool to say.
“So, ah, how do you get out of class to be an aide?” John mentally kicked himself. What a dumb question. What was it about pretty girls that always made him talk like an idiot?
For her part, Emilee just smiled. “I’ve finished most of my required classes. I take a few college classes at BACC, the community college here in town. I get time to do pretty much whatever I want. It’s great.”
“Huh,” John grunted. He couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“Oh, by the way,” she said, “All new students need to go to the nurse’s station. It’s in room 104, just a few doors down from your class. I’ll see you later.”
John walked through the atrium and down a long hallway. He passed by the nurse’s station and walked in. The nurse, a short, gray-haired man with the name Shard on his nametag took some blood while he grumbled to himself. The whole process seemed a little odd, but years of moving from place to place had taught him to go with the flow. The process ended quickly, and John was happy to get out of there and away from the grumpy nurse. Soon, he was outside room 108. He breathed in deeply through his nose and prepared himself for another new school year.
As John entered, a tall, pale-skinned man with light brown hair and a boy’s face was busily squeaking a blue marker across the dry-erase board. John stood at the entrance, wondering if he was the teacher. Finally, the man turned from the white board and looked at John.
“Well,” a deep bass voice that sounded like it had to come from someone else other than the man in front of him said, “Please tell the class your name.”
“Uh,” John said, “M-my n-name is John, John Blackstone.” John hated talking in front of people. It always made him queasy. He never understood why he could trade taekwondo kicks with someone but was never able to give a speech in front of a class without stammering.
The boy-faced man smiled at him. He wore a scraggly beard which made him look even younger. “I’m Mr. Franklin. Please take the seat in front of Mr. Durham.” Mr. Franklin waved his hand at an empty desk near the back of the room.
As John walked toward his desk, he made eye contact with the young man reclining in the desk behind his. The boy had dark hair that matched his dark eyes and dark skin. John tried to determine what nationality the boy was but gave up after a short while. He was tall, athletic, and exotic looking. John imagined the boy was probably able to get any girl he wanted.
John slid into his desk and pulled out his tablet. As he turned it on, he was suddenly aware of the silence that had swallowed the room. He felt the stares of all the kids on him. He looked up, and found Mr. Franklin looking at him, one dark eyebrow cocked.
“Mr. Blackstone, just for future reference, we do not use tablets in my class. I want to teach you how to take real notes using this little thing called a pen and a notebook,” Mr. Franklin said with half-smile. “Now as I was saying, Democrat Andrew Jackson completely disregarded Chief Justice John Marshall’s decision that the President could not legally relocate the Cherokee. He did this so that their land could be used by settlers. Thousands of native Americans died along the way. You will find throughout history that some presidents, like people in general, will disregard the law when it does not suit their goals. . .”
As Mr. Franklin continued with his lecture, which was actually mildly interesting, John took some time to look at his classmates. The boy in front of him had long, stringy hair. John didn’t think he washed it very often because it gave off a terrible stench. No wonder people didn’t want to sit behind him.
John’s heart beat a little faster when his eyes rested on a beautiful girl on the other side of the room. Her pencil, when it was not loudly scribbling notes, kept twisting itself inside a long strand of hair that had escaped her ponytail. John tried to figure out if her hair was blond or brunette but gave up after a little while. He decided he liked it either way.
John’s eyes turned from gazing at the girl and made contact with a pale boy sitting behind her. The boy was glaring at him. John did a double-take. That boy was about 6’2” and big, with dark, threatening eyes. The boy bared his teeth at him. John looked down, hoping that this wasn’t going to turn into another situation like the last school. Dad would be ticked.
The bell rang, and John put his things into his backpack. As he walked out the door, the boy who sat behind him in class began to walk alongside him.
“Hi, my name’s Donovan,” He said, “Don’t worry about Mr. Franklin. He’s always like that. He gets on everyone’s case. He’s tough but fair.”
John shrugged. “It’ll take some getting used to. In my last school, the teachers didn’t care if you had a tablet out. Some of them didn’t even give lectures. We just read articles in class.”
“Yeah, Mr. Franklin is old-school like that. Believe me. I get more of it than anybody. He’s my uncle.”
John whistled. “I’m sorry, man. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a family member as a teacher. Plus, what is he, like twelve?”
His heart skipped a beat as he realized he had just insulted Donovan’s uncle, but Donovan simply laughed. “I know, right? We keep telling him to ditch the beard. It makes him look like a little kid trying to grow his first mustache.”
John relaxed. He liked Donovan, and he didn’t want to mess it up. He never made friends this quickly.
“Could I see your schedule?” Donovan asked.
“Sure,” said John.
Donovan studied it for a moment. “Sorry, it looks like we have different class schedules for the first half of the day.” He pointed to a set of stairs. “Take those up to the next floor and keep walking away from the atrium. You’ll hit room 225. It looks like we have the same lunch period, though, so I’ll see you then.”
“See you later.” John hurried to get to his next class. Thankfully, it was easy to find.
John shouldn’t have worried about getting used to pen and paper. One teacher droned on and on, and the other teacher had the students read lectures on their tablets during class. He would’ve been bored except that boy who had glared at him was in both his classes. What was even more frustrating was that the boy kept glowering at him like John stole his girlfriend. When the bell rang, John quickly grabbed his things and headed for lunch. He desperately hoped that guy had another class or a different lunch time or something.
John could see the lunchroom doors when he felt a large body slam him into the boys’ restroom.