Aiden Brande is dreading his Sophomore year of high school. On only the second day of school, his classmates seem to think that he's some sort of freak. After all, he did ignite the entire Boy's locker room, activate the sprinkler system, and burst his way into the gymnasium engulfed in flames only to walk away without a single burn mark . But as Aiden soon discovers, this is his gift....
Magic. It exists beyond the books and movies. It's as real as anything else. In fact, it's like living in a brand new world. He quickly discovers the pleasures of magic. Power, fun, friendship. However, it comes at a price. Secrecy, frustration, betrayal, and even death. Magic is nothing like he thought it was, and his new obligation to foil the plans of a powerful murderer will forever change his life.
Monday, April 30, 2012
Chapter 4 : Ridgeway
“Hey, Dad, you’re home early. Hope you don’t mind Kirk coming home with me… we’re going to head down by the park,” Aiden called to his father.
“Sure. Hey, Kirk, what’s happenin’?”
Kirk stifled a smirk. Bruce Brande greeted all of Aiden’s friends this way every single time, so eventually it became a running joke between Aiden, Kirk, and Dylan to make fun of it. Bruce was tall with a bit of a lesser-rustic build. He sported a bushy brown mustache and a tattered muddle of a hairdo that had a tint of orange to it. His face was dressed in a mess of freckles that looked like a poor connect-the-dots puzzle. It was evident where Aiden got most of his looks from, minus the fair skin from his mother.
“Not much, probably gonna go toss a disc around,” Kirk replied.
“Man, you guys and that Frisbee, huh?” He paused for a second and drew a deep breath. “Hey, Aiden… do you think it’s a good idea to be running around after yesterday’s events? Especially if you don’t know what’s wrong,” said Bruce.
“I’m fine, Dad,” Aiden said quickly.
“Alrighty. Just… take it easy, I guess.”
“We’ll be back around dark. Pizza tonight?” asked Aiden.
“Before dark. And yeah, fine with me.”
“Okay, see ya,” said Aiden, opening the front door.
“Later, Papa Brande!” chimed Kirk.
The two began their trek to Ridgeway Road, which was only about a twenty minute walk from Aiden’s house. It was an easy walk, too. Aiden and Kirk’s small town of Quincy was pretty quiet. Nothing exciting ever happened: nobody had a gigantic and immaculate house, no accidents ever occurred, there was practically no crime, no celebrities lived there, none of the school sports teams were any good, and the town was so small that everybody knew everybody. In fact, the town was pretty boring, to put it mildly.
They soon reached Ridgeway Road, which had to be one of the creepiest roads in town. There were no houses on it and the street was long and twisted with many sharp turns, making it impossible to see who or what was coming around the corner. There was a lone street lamp near the stop sign at the far end, but other than that, there was not a trace of light after the sun set behind the tall trees on the west side of the road. The east side was even spookier because half of it was clad in thorny shrubs and cluttered trees, while the other was home to uncharacteristically long cattails, which supposedly blocked the view of the Quincy Bay.
“There’s the guardrail.” Aiden pointed. “Is that where we go?” he asked.
“Yeah, that’s it. Just walk behind it and follow me along the stream real close… there’s a ton of sticker bushes that I’d rather not have to pull you out of,” said Kirk.
After receiving a few shallow cuts on their arms from weaving through a hundred feet of jagged shrubs, the vegetation began to open up. The high, three o’ clock sun painted quite a beautiful picture as it peeked its way through small gaps in the large tree branches overhead. Aged leaves cluttered the ground and the clear stream sparkled in the sun spots, displaying a habitat of tadpoles, frogs, and small, yellow snakes that Aiden quickly moved away from… he hated snakes.
“Pretty cool, huh?” said Kirk.
“Yeah, but, um… a lot of this is flammable.”
Kirk laughed. “We’re not there yet. Still about three hundred yards to go – haven’t even hit the split yet. Just… thought I’d point out the scenery…” He grimaced, so Aiden took a guess.
“This is where you used to take Angela, isn’t it?”
Kirk frowned, drew a deep breath, and sighed. “Yeah, she loved it…”
“Come on, take me further. We’ve got magic to do,” said Aiden, grinning.
At that, Kirk smiled, and they pressed on.
No more than five minutes later, they reached the split and went left as Kirk had instructed. Judging by the amount of slithering reptiles they had seen so far, Aiden really did not care to see what was over to the right. The stream began to close up and eventually reached a dead stop at a solid wall of six-feet tall, yellow grasses.
“Over here!” called Kirk. “It’s a bit thinner this way… less chance of getting Deer Ticks,” he chuckled.
Aiden didn’t exactly find this funny, but humored Kirk with a grin and followed him into the tall grasses. With some minor struggling, they reached a large, open field. Ridgeway Field.
It really was as Kirk had explained: big and full of a whole lot of nothing. It was just about the size of a Major League Baseball field and it looked like one, too, with mixed patches of dirt and grass and a small mound in the middle with a chunk of concrete jutting out of the side.
Aiden smiled. “It’s perfect,” he said.
The two made their way out to the middle by the dirt mound and stopped so that they were far enough from the trees and taller grasses.
“Okay, now what?” asked Kirk, excitedly.
Aiden paused. It wasn’t until now that he realized that they had come here without a plan. He still had no idea how to produce a flame at will, and didn’t even know how to go about trying again. He was even starting to doubt that it ever happened in the first place. Maybe he was going crazy and Kirk was just playing along to make him feel better. What if something else caused the fire and the smoke had made him delusional? He decided to be honest.
“No idea,” Aiden sighed. “I tried to tell you that before. I don’t know where to begin. Hell, I don’t even know if it even happened anymore.”
“Stop – it did happen. You said it did, and I believe you. And the hospital? That wasn’t a trick lighter or something. You did it. It’s real.”
Aiden thought about this for a moment. Kirk was right. “I guess so, yeah,” he said.
“Good, now why don’t we just start out with things that we do know,” Kirk said matter-of-factly.
“Alright.” Aiden paused to think. “For one, both times, I was really sweaty. Maybe that’s important. Also, I was really, really mad… and kind of embarrassed at the same time. So… I’m not really sure how that fits together,” he confessed.
“Well, let’s just start with the first one, then. Come on, catch me.” And he instantly took off at a run.
“What? Are you serious – Hey! My old man told me to take it easy!” he yelled.
He was only wasting his breath, though. Kirk was a good distance away, taunting him. Aiden charged after him.
To paint a clearer picture, a kid who was average-at-best at anything that involved physical activity was chasing one of the school’s top Track runners. It was like a small pickup truck trying to catch one of those NASCAR vehicles all decked out in Tide colors and Cheerios emblems – All he could do was wait for Kirk to run out of gas.
Which could take hours.
Or maybe never.
Ten minutes later, Aiden hunched over to catch his breath and waved one hand, signaling that he’d given up.
Kirk jogged back over and looked as if he’d only just walked up a small flight of stairs.
“Good enough?” Kirk chuckled.
“Ya think?” Aiden panted. His face was beaded with sweat.
“Okay, give it a shot.” It was easy to see that Kirk was excited.
“Jeez, man… I’m not a runner like you. Can’t I get a minute to catch my breath?” he heaved.
Aiden paced around in a circle with his hands on his hips for a long minute.
“So, now we just wait?” asked Kirk.
Aiden shrugged and did just that. They waited in silence, hopeful and attentive.
But nothing happened.
No fire, no spark, not even a glow.
They both sighed.
“You’re useless. I don’t even know why I bothered wasting my time with you today,” said Kirk.
“Excuse me?” said Aiden, clearly startled.
“Yeah, that’s right. You’re just a nutjob. I mean, really, magic? What, are you six years old again? Grow up!”
Aiden couldn’t believe his ears. His best friend, of all people… He was furious.
“You look like you want to hit me,” said Kirk.
“Yeah? Well, maybe I do right now.”
“Ha! You’d have to catch me first, though. Not that you ever could –“
“WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM!?” Aiden yelled.
And then Kirk smiled.
“Good. It worked,” he said.
Aiden was confused. And he still really wanted to punch Kirk in the face. “What?”
“I was only trying to get you mad. You said you were angry both times when it happened.”
“Oh… I suppose it didn’t work then. Did anything strange happen to me?”
“No, but for a second there I really thought you were going to slug me,” said Kirk.
They both laughed. And then Aiden had an idea.
“Hit me,” said Aiden.
“Just do it. I have a plan.”
Kirk gazed at him skeptically.
“Come on, man, we’re losing daylight here. Sock me.”
“Don’t be an ass. I’m not going to hit – “
“C’mon, pansy. Just do it! Don’t be a – “
Kirk’s fist connected with his chest. For a small guy, he really packed a wallop. Aiden shoved Kirk in retaliation, as if to say Keep going. Kirk got the message and continued brawling with his best friend.
Aiden had an idea. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea, but it was an idea nonetheless.
He balled his fists in rage and stared at them, feeling the full assault from Kirk completely unguarded. His knuckles were white. He strained so hard that he thought he might pass out.
Any second now he thought.
His face was pouring with sweat and veins protruded in his neck like a complicated pipeline on the verge of bursting. He focused harder than ever on his fists. Kirk gave him another heavy shot to the chest and Aiden fell to the ground.
He was drained. Kirk didn’t look too hot, himself. He took a knee to get level with Aiden.
“Now why the hell did you make me do that?” said Kirk.
Aiden was wincing and struggling for breath yet again. “I don’t know. I thought… it would work. I was focusing on my hands and everything. Desperate idea, I guess…” he sighed.
“Hey, man, don’t worry about it. We’ll figure it out. I’ll come here every day with you if I have to.”
“You know, I’m starting to think that you want this more than I do.”
Kirk had always been that way, though. Determined like no other. When he put his mind to it, there was absolutely no stopping him, no matter how many times he had to fail before he achieved success. That’s probably why he was so athletic. His confidence was unparalleled. He made a great coach, which was good for Aiden – most of the time he needed it.
“Here,” said Kirk, helping Aiden to his feet. “A few more tries, but I’m not beating you up again,” said Kirk.
Aiden smiled. “How sweet of you. Gonna take me out to dinner afterward?”
“Funny… Maybe I should hit you.”
After an hour’s worth of sweating, straining, and frustration, no progress was made. They decided to call it quits and head back to the Brande’s for dinner.
Kirk was being so encouraging that Aiden did his best not to show it, but he was bummed.
“We’ll get it. I mean, it’s just like anything else, really. Can’t expect to be a professional after two days,” said Kirk.
And it was fairly true.
Aiden and Kirk spent the remainder of the week completely focused on magic. They did nothing but conjure new ideas in their classes and went to Ridgeway every day after school until dark to practice. Despite their efforts, they made no discoveries and were nothing short of exhausted by the end of the week. Friday night’s session ran well into dark and Aiden got home later than usual. He wolfed down his dinner, took the world’s quickest shower, and went right to bed.
He flipped his pillow over and fell asleep almost immediately.
He was sitting on a large chunk of rock, with his toes in the sand, looking out at the sunset across the calm sea. The sound was soothing. It was warm and slightly breezy. Maybe it was like paradise.
And then she was there. Myriah.
She was walking over to him. She smiled and waved. Her hair was let down and was swaying gently in the ocean breeze. She looked absolutely stunning.
She sat down next to him and smiled again. Aiden returned it as she leaned in close to him. He took her hand in his and laced their fingers together. He wrapped his other arm around her and brought her in even closer.
For a moment, they sat in silence, watching and listening to the waves.
“Don’t you wish we could just stay forever?” he asked. “Leave it all behind. Run away. You know?”
She turned her head away from the sea and looked at him. She was so gentle, so innocent. It was like she was melting in his arms.
“Sometimes. But I know we have to stay. And I don’t mind. You’ll keep me safe,” she said in almost a whisper.
There was a longing in her eyes, bluer than the sea they sat by. Aiden smiled as she leaned her face in closer to his.
“And… there’s something I wanted to tell you…” she said.
She closed her eyes and was suddenly only an inch from his face. He closed his, too.
Maybe their lips met. Aiden wasn’t exactly sure. It had been a long time since he’d kissed a girl. Maybe he had forgotten what it felt like. It seemed weird. Like his body was being sucked through the sand. The sound of the sea faded. The warmth left his body. The sunset disappeared.
He was sitting on a green and white checkered couch, awkwardly holding a pillow. He looked across the table in front of him and saw the old man smiling and giving a small laugh.
“Perhaps I should have waited another minute to bring you back,” he said.
Aiden felt his cheeks turn a pale shade of pink. “You… saw?” he asked.
The old man nodded. “Yes, and it’s part of why I brought you back. You hardly know this girl and you’re already dreaming of her. Maybe you should talk to her once before you continue doing such things. It is a bit odd, you know.”
Aiden felt quite embarrassed. “Gee, thanks for the advice. What are you, my grandfather?” he asked sarcastically.
“No, but speaking of him – well, why don’t you get comfortable and we’ll talk about the real reason for why you’re here. Have a cookie.”
Aiden obliged and took one. It was just as soft and delicious as it had been last time. Aiden looked at the old man and gave a nod of approval. “Okay,” he said. “But before we get started, who are you?”
“I told you before that I do not wish to tell you just yet.”
“Alright, fine. What about a nickname or something? I can’t just call you Old Man or Gramps,” said Aiden.
The old man chuckled. “I am not fond of aliases, but I do see your point, Mr. Brande.” He paused for a half minute. “You may call me Cafaran.”
“Nice to meet you, Cafaran,” said Aiden.
“Thank you, Mr. Brande. Now, let’s get down to business, shall we? I have been watching you all week.”
“What do you mean?” asked Aiden.
“I meant what I said. I have been watching you. And Kirk. And what you’ve been doing at the meadow.”
Aiden was taken aback. How did he know? How was he watching him? His heart began to race from nervousness.
But this was only a dream. Wasn’t it? Isn’t that what Cafaran said last time?
“You look a bit shocked. Let’s just say that I am a very old, but very wise man, and in many ways, I am like you.”
“I don’t know about wise. Cryptic, more like. You never make sense,” said Aiden, truthfully.
“Come now, Mr. Brande. You are more intelligent than that! But, alas, you have had a long and tiring week. I will put it plainly… I am a mage, just like you.”
Aiden was not sure why, but this made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
“Yes, a mage. Magic user. Wizard. Warlock. Whatever you’d like to call it, but we refer to ourselves as mages. We have extraordinary powers, as you might have noticed during your locker room incident.”
“So it was real. Or, is real, rather. Good to know I wasn’t just hallucinating,” said Aiden.
“Ah, but this is just a dream after all. Maybe you can’t be certain.”
“Why must you rain on my parade?” asked Aiden.
Cafaran chuckled. “I am merely poking fun. Lighten up, Mr. Brande. This is something worth being excited about.”
“Excited? More like frustrated. I can’t do it anymore. It was a one – well, two time deal.”
“Oh, but you can. That brings me to my next point. I am going to teach you how to control your magic. Would you like that?”
Aiden nearly fell off of the couch. Hopefully this wasn’t one of those dreams that ends right before the good part happens. He’d had enough of that already. This dream seemed different than the last one, though. It was more real.
“Well, yeah, of course,” said Aiden.
“Good. Now I must commend you for your efforts so far. You are…what is the expression? Close but no cigar? Anyway, you were right to think of your hands. You may thank that which you are fumbling with at this very moment.”
Aiden looked down and realized that he was toying nervously with his gold ring. He stopped and held it up, puzzled. “This?”
“Indeed. Your grandfather’s ring is your Intagrum.”
“Intagrum. It sort of means ‘connection’ or ‘link’. It is an ordinary object, treasured by the owner, that augment’s his or her magic abilities. In your case, it is your grandfather’s ring. Unless you care to disagree?”
Aiden carefully examined the ring, thinking about Cafaran’s words. “I suppose you’re right. I always wear it. I think of it as my good luck charm and – ohhhhh, now it really makes sense. The ring didn’t melt when my hands were on fire both times!”
“Precisely! See? You are quite intelligent, Mr. Brande. Yes, the ring did not melt because it is what drew out your power in the first place.”
“So, all I have to do is use the ring?”
“Patience, please. Let me finish,” said Cafaran. “The ring is significant, yes. Casting spells is no easy task at first, but like many other things, it eventually becomes second nature after doing it enough. It takes a great deal of emotion to cast your first spell. And usually the second and third as well. The sensation of great anger, sadness, determination, and so on will typically cloud the focal process of a cast.”
“Not sure if I’m following. So is there an incantation or some phrase I have to say or something? I don’t quite get it.”
“To put it more simply, it involves great focus. Think about what you want to do. Let the spell form in your mind, and then follow it through your bloodstream. Depending on your level of focus and the type of spell, it will grow stronger as it passes through different chambers in your body. Watch it travel through you and release it through your Intagrum.”
Aiden took in every word. “So, I did all of that when I was angry?”
“Probably not all of that. That is why the spell was out of control and you nearly torched your entire school. Focus is an essential part to control. Why don’t you give it a try?”
“Here?” asked Aiden. “Aren’t you afraid that I’ll burn your house down?”
“No. For one, I trust you. And two, I am a mage, as I told you before. I could put out any flame you could muster right now.”
“Gee, thanks for the confidence booster. So, I can do magic in dreams then?”
“Some dreams are more real than you’d think.” He winked and gestured Aiden to stand up. “Go on, try it out,” he said with a smile. “I will guide you through it.”
Aiden stood up, straight and tall.
“Let’s try to create a fireball. About the size of a baseball will do. Form the image in your mind.”
Aiden nodded. I want to create a fireball, he thought. Small enough to throw or catch. I want to feel it in my hand. And a picture of a flaming ball appeared within his head.
“Close your eyes, it will help,” said Cafaran. “Now, let it travel through you. Be direct. Right from your mind to your left hand and out through your ring.”
Aiden kept his eyes shut tight. The ball of fire began to move within his mind. It rolled down his neck, as if he were swallowing it, and moved through his heart from chamber to chamber. It didn’t bounce, but rolled quite smoothly down his arm. He could feel the hair standing up on his forearms as it rolled down to his palm. He pictured the ring, glinting with the reflection of the flame. He felt a small surge of heat.
“Open your eyes, Mr. Brande,” said Cafaran.
Aiden did as he was told and saw exactly what he had pictured in his mind. A fireball about the size of his palm floated just an inch above his hand, soundless and warm. It danced around and spun in his hand as if it were bending to Aiden’s very will. The feeling was incredible. His eyes lit up and he was grinning wider than ever.
“Now, let us find a use for it. Throw it at the wall. Don’t worry, you won’t cause any damage,” said Cafaran.
Aiden was slightly startled by this, but he did not break his focus. He nodded in agreement and took a step to his left to face the wall of many clocks. He took aim at a twelve thirty with a brass pendulum and wound up his arm like a pitcher. He threw with a great force and watched the fireball leave his hands, soaring through the air with grace. The ball connected with its intended target and ignited the clock. It began to melt underneath the flames.
“I’m sorry! You said it wouldn’t –“
“It is alright. Just watch,” said Cafaran quite calmly.
He waved his arm and it looked as though an invisible bucket of water dumped itself on the clock. The flames were doused and the clock was steaming with a steady hiss. Cafaran waved his hand once more and the clock began to reform. Within seconds, it looked the same as it did just moments ago.
“Excellent, Mr. Brande. Very good indeed.”
Aiden could not help but grin. “Thank you, Cafaran.”
“Any time,” he said. “Oh, dear, speaking of which, I have kept you for too long again. Forgive me, Mr. Brande. Do well to remember what I have told you. I am certain that we will meet again.” He smiled his usual smile and nodded.
He felt like he was being sucked through the floor. The last thing he saw was the warm smile.
Aiden rolled over in his bed and opened his eyes. The sun was up. This was good enough for him. He snatched up his cell phone and began dialing furiously. He waited patiently for someone to pick up.
“Hello? Aiden, it’s like eight in the morning, dude.”
“Kirk! Get up, we’re going to Ridgeway. I have something I need to show you.”