1. The Good Old Days

The city of Lucicrescens. My city. A vision of modern day America incarnate. Or at least what’s left of it. This is where I was born; this is where I grew up, where I took my first steps, and kissed my first girl.

It’s also Hell on earth. The kind of place where anything can happen.

It all started back in high school. It was my last year at Virtue High, the biggest high school in the city. Forgive the cliché, but I do remember it like it was yesterday. It was a cold November afternoon. The blue skies were shrouded behind a dense layer of grey clouds. The remaining leaves rustled in the wind as they hung on to their branches in futility. And there I was, eighteen-years-old, sitting in my third period class, slouching on my chair as I stared at nothing. I was thinking about an incident that took place a few weeks earlier when I ended up in a car accident. Luckily, I wasn’t seriously hurt. However, my father was more angry than relieved and he took away my driving privileges. He just happened to be the chairman of Apollo Endeavors; one of the leading companies in manufacturing, medical sciences, and computer software. My punishment was a bit unusual, seeing how he wasn’t the type to punish. Many people say that I take after the old guy, with my hazel eyes, dark brown hair that’s somewhat wavy, and my quite stubborn attitude.

Soon the teacher’s arrival and her salutations to the class interrupted my daydreaming. She was a young woman in her late twenties. She began to get herself organized as more students walked in. “So how’s your leg, Anthony?” she asked me.

“Oh, it’s all right, Ms. Yee. Thanks,” I answered from across the room.

“You of all people I would think would be more careful,” she said.

“Well, obviously I’m not that careful,” I said pointing at my left leg.

“So do you think you’d be able to play tonight?” Ms. Yee continued.

“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”

“Well, considering your sore leg, don’t you think you wouldn’t play that well, or even injure yourself further? I mean, if I were you I’d sit this one out. It’s still the beginning of the season, right?”

“Yeah, but still. And besides, my leg feels fine.” I was full of shit, of course. I knew that my leg wasn’t in top condition, but I still intended to play regardless.

“Well, good luck then,” she said before she made an announcement to the class. “Okay everyone. If I could just have your attention, I have something to say. The city finals of the E-Ex are going to be held at Johansson University in three weeks. Those of you who made it are expected to be ready with all of your equipment.”

The Engineering Expo was held annually with many high schools across the state participating. Seniors who made it past the city finals moved on the to state finals and given the chance to win a scholarship that could render tuition fees meaningless. I had entered it with a couple of my friends. I never wanted to rely on my family fortune to go to university. I wanted to see if I could raise the funds on my own. And that science fair was just the opportunity. I had asked my two good friends, Al and Chris, if they wanted to enter the contest. Surprisingly enough, they were just as interested as me.

“So if we win this thing we’ll all get the scholarship as a group, right?” asked Al, a tall, lean, African American who had his hair cut low at the time.

“Nah, I‘ll get the money,” answered Chris, a not too popular kid who never seemed to comb his dirty blonde hair. “You know I’m be the brains behind this whole thing.”

Al simply responded by throwing a crumpled sheet of paper at him.

Being the son of an acclaimed industrialist, I had always been fascinated by nuclear physics. I’ve been reading about it since I learnt how to read. So me and my friends decided to do our project on a more remote branch of that field- cold fusion. And with a stroke of luck we actually made it to the city finals.

Our basketball team’s game was that evening. My school was facing Harbord Tech who were two and one. So were we. To be honest with you, I wasn’t too sure if I would put on a great performance on that court. I was right. Due to my leg, still aching from the accident, I didn’t play half as well as I usually did. Even my coach grimaced at the idea of letting me off the bench. But I was so determined that I refused to just sit there throughout the entire game. I played as hard as I could and put up a pretty good fight. But in the end, The Virtue High Psychos came up two points short.

After the game, it was about 7:35 and I was aching to get home. I grabbed my cell phone and called home for someone to come pick me up. Soon after, a black Rolls-Royce emerged from the mist on the streets. “Care for a newspaper?” offered Greg the  driver.

“Sure, thanks,” I answered. My place was all the way on Gellen Island so I decided to read it for the thirty-minute-plus ride from downtown to the outskirts. I noticed an article on the front page about Michael Apollo, my father. Apparently he had decided to fully back his brother’s campaign, who was a senator and had been running for president for the past year or so. This came as a shock to me not only because I hadn’t heard my father talk about any campaign, but also because my dad and uncle weren’t even all that close. I asked the driver if he knew anything about it. He was about as oblivious as me.

We continued down the streets, the black tinted windows softening the red, pink, blue and purple Chinese neon signs that festooned the majority of shops in this neighbourhood. Steam simmered out from the sewers, making the city Floor look like it was built on a hot plate. Once we escaped the downtown traffic, the car was able to stretch its legs. As the Rolls-Royce sped towards the edge of the city, I peered out the window and watched the city glide by. It was a cool evening and the yellow and white lights from millions of windows lit up the night. The skyscrapers behind us were like cliffs and slowly began to fall behind the horizon of streets and industrial buildings. We came to an intersection as the car gently stopped at a red light. Then something caught the corner of my eye and my attention was drawn to a narrow alley on my left. And right then and there I saw a girl being mugged. A man was holding her to the wall while another held a knife to her throat as he groped her body, searching for valuables. I sat there staring out the window as if waiting for something to happen. Something about her face seemed familiar. Had I seen her before? I watched as his hand ran up the poor girl’s leg and disappeared behind her skirt. My driver Greg was preoccupied, texting on his cell, seemingly oblivious to what was happening. At that moment several thoughts ran through my head: I could grab my phone and call the cops (as useless as that’ll be). Or, I could alert my driver so we could both run out there and try to take care of the situation ourselves. But instead of doing either of those, I just sat there. Finally, the man forcefully spread open the girl’s legs just as the lights turned green. The car sped off away from the scene. I refused to imagine what they did next to that girl. It was just another night in Lucicrescens.

When I finally got home I was exhausted. The car drove past the two front gates and into the front yard. The yard was in the shape of a semi circle, about a third of a soccer field in length, and had a long rectangular fountain in the middle. There were two staircases at each end of the yard and one in the middle that led up to the spacious patio. I entered into the main foyer where in front of me stood what some might call a grand stair case that led to the many rooms on the next level. Before I went on to my room, I decided to go to my dad’s office to see if I could ask him about this campaign. When I walked in, the office was a farmhouse of suits running back and forth. My dad was in the midst of this chaos and seemed to be having an argument over his cell phone.

“Yes, I know business is slow,” he said. “But– so what if this is no high school debate, I want this done soon, what do I pay you for? Yes well– what– yes well you tell him that– wait shut up for a minute, you tell him that I’m not running no daycare center here, those men have got work to do. Yes– uh-huh– yes– well I– yes– okay then, but you just make sure that he maintains his public image. I’ll tell the governor that I’m going ahead with the campaign– we could use his support.– Everything will work out perfect.”

He hung up and made a glance at me, his face almost a spitting image of mine. “You’re earlier than usual,” he said, rolling up the sleeves of his navy blue dress shirt.  “What was the rush?”

“Uh- I had a basketball game. I was tired,” I answered.

“You play basketball now? Since when?” he asked, excusing himself from his office.

“Since ever,” I answered following him out of the room.

“Sorry I asked,” continued my father, “So did you win?”

“Nope.”

“Well there you go. You’re playing an enduring sport on an injured leg. What did you think would happen? I knew that car was a bad idea. In two weeks time that thing was in the shop.” He cracked his head to one side, releasing the tension in his neck with a snap. “I understand you’re doing a science project,” he continued.

“Oh, yeah. It’s on cold fusion.”

“Cold fusion? Impressive. That’s a tough area though. The company dabbled in it a few years ago . Didn’t make it too far.  But don’t hesitate to use its research, if you want.”

“I already am.”

“Oh, that’s great.” He came to halt in front of the staircase. Turned and looked at me.  “Is there anything you need?”

A silence came between us, filled only by the noise spilling out of the office.

“N-no that’s okay,” I finally answered.  “I’ll let you know if I do.”  He was scanning me with his dagger-like eyes. I did my best to avoid contact with them. “I better hit the sack before I fall asleep right here in this hallway. Good night.”

“Yeah,” he responded before continuing to a group of partners in the next room. I headed up the stairs thinking, That’s the man I want to be.

When I got to my room, I undressed, took a quick shower, and got ready to face the night- sleep. It wasn’t until then when I realized that I didn’t even ask my father about my uncle’s campaign. Screw it, I thought to myself, I’ll ask him next time he’s home.

I was never much of a fan of sleep. I usually tried to avoid it, so I’ve played my share of MMORPG’s. Anything to keep the Sandman at bay. It was the dreams that bothered me. Too many bad ones. That night was no different as I tossed and turned in my sleep. I dreamt that I was in a dark place, but I couldn’t tell where I was. I looked around and saw nothing. All I could see was the black that surrounded me. All I could hear was the silence in the ambience.

It was cold. Chilling cold.

I began to quickly turn around in circles, hoping to find a way out. When I stopped there was a beautiful young girl standing in front of me, about my age or a couple years younger. Sixteen perhaps. There seemed to be a beam of golden light pouring down on her, illuminating her like a seraph. Her caramel hair was shimmering. I gazed at her with amazement, I didn’t know what to say. I looked at the rest her body and was terrified to find that she was bleeding. Her white blouse was stained red. I looked at her face once more. Then to my horror I realized something yet more disturbing. This same girl who enthralled me was that same poor girl that was being mugged in that alleyway. Again, there was something familiar about her face. She then spoke to me in a haunting and distressful voice, “Help me, Anthony. Help me…”

At that split second I woke up in a pool of sweat. I was breathing so hard that I couldn’t control it. I was both horrified and confused. “What the hell was that?” I asked myself.

The next morning I went down stairs to find breakfast already prepared by one of the maids, and of course my father was nowhere to be seen. My ten-year-old brother Jonathan had already dug in. “So what’s up?” I asked, seating myself across from him.

“Eating,” he answered.

“No shit.” For a while we didn’t say anything, which caught my attention as he usually wasn’t this quiet, not around me at least. “So who’s the girl?”

“What?” he said, the scrambled eggs nearly falling from his lips.

“You heard me,” I replied.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said as he flicked on the TV.

“Yeah, right. You forget I can read you like an open book.”

“Is it that obvious?” he asked.

“Uh, yeah,” I said “Usually you got a zillion and one questions for me and I gotta shut you up. So what’s the scoop?”

“You don’t know her.”

“Doesn’t matter,” I said with my mouth full. “Fill me in.”

“You never tell me about your problems,” he objected.

“That’s because my problems aren’t PG rated.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked.

“When your dreams aren’t dry anymore I’ll let you know,” I said.

He simply stared at me bemused.

“Never mind. So what, you think you could solve this puzzle on your own? You can’t. Even Einstein couldn’t figure women out, and he figured out some pretty crazy stuff. Come on, ask me a question.”

“Okay. Say I did like someone. How do I get her attention?”

“Dude, that’s it?” I asked. “That’s the thing that’s bothering you. All you have to do is talk to her.”

“About what?” he asked with a shrug.

“Anything,” I replied. “Except the weather. Don‘t start a conversation with how sunny it is.”

“Gee, that’s helpful,” he said as he rolled his eyes.

“And for God’s sake get involved with some kind of sport. Join a team or somethin’, cuz women love guys who play basketball or football or whatever. And besides, either you still haven’t grown out of your baby fat or you’ve been eatin’ too many Krispy Kreme donuts. So a little bit of exercise won’t hurt.”

“Basically, you’re sayin’ I should be like you.”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“Whatever,” he said. “I’ll see you later.” He grabbed his backpack and flung it over his shoulder as he stood up to walk by me.

“Hold up,” I said, stopping him before he could leave. I picked away a piece of grey lint that was trapped in his bistre coloured hair; he didn’t have the luxury of having his as wavy as mine. “Appearance and presentation is another thing you need to think about if you want to get her attention,” I lectured holding the piece of lint out in front of him. “So make sure you look smart and not stupid. But because you all wear those same dress pants and grey sweaters at your school, I guess you won’t have to worry about it much.”

“Thanks,” he said with a smile as he put on his burgundy skullcap, which he always seemed to be wearing.

“Just lookin’ out for you,” I replied.

Two nights later I started working on a model for the science project. It was a mock cold fusion cell made from things you can find around the kitchen; pretty much an old blender filled with water along with a pair of make shift electrodes submerged inside. Afterwards I studied until 3:00 a.m. for a math test I had the next day, but I really just wanted an excuse to stay up. Nevertheless, I was so tired after I finished that I didn’t even bother to change my clothes. I simply flopped on my bed and dozed off. The morning after, Maggie, my three-year old Dalmatian, poked her head through my bedroom door left ajar and slid through. She hopped on my bed and begun licking the hell out of me. I pushed her off of me and looked at the time on my radio. “Ah shit, I’m late!” I was so tired last night, I must have forgotten to set the alarm. But I stayed prepared for these inconveniences by always leaving my door open for Maggie. In case I forgot to set my alarm, like today, she would be there to ensure that I wake up. I leapt out of bed and threw on whatever I could find.

When I finally reached Virtue High, I saw Chris and Al sitting on the steps outside. “Whoa, you look like shit, man,” said Al, “Why you so late?”

“Over slept,” I answered.

“You? Over sleep? Yeah right,” said Chris.

“No, truth. I like, stayed up all night working on the project.”

“Well, you comin’ to practice after school?” asked Al

“Coach is makin’ me take the week off. Says I’m no use with this crap leg.”

“Guess it falls to you’re boy Al to save the team as always,” he stated.

“Yeah, keep tellin’ yourself that,” I said, “Hey, is that Elizabeth?” Elizabeth, a mint looking blond senior student, was walking by.

“I think so,” Al replied. “Eh Chris, why don’t you go ask her out already?”

“I don’t know,” Chris hesitated. “Isn’t she going out with that Justin guy?”

“Who cares,” said Al. “That just makes it more scandalous.”

“I heard they broke up over the summer,” I said, “And I know how much you’ve liked her since forever. Now’s your chance, kid.”

“Don’t look now, boys, but she’s comin’ this way,” said Al. Elizabeth seemed to be looking for somebody as she approached us, her large clueless blue eyes surveying the premises.

“Hey guys, what’s up?” she asked. We all responded at the same time in an incoherent, senseless ramble. Elizabeth simply giggled and said, “I saw your game the other night. You guys played well.”

“Yeah, but not well enough,” said Al. “We almost had those bastards.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said with a flick of her thin wrist. “The season just started, didn’t it?”

“Don’t bother trying to reassure us,” I said. “Our coach will make sure we feel like shit later on. Hey, where’s Justin these days? How come I don’t see him on the team this year? ”

“Why you askin’ me?” she asked with a hint of attitude. “Me and him haven’t spoken in months. Which is another thing I wanted to ask you guys. Have you guys seen him by any chance? I thought you might know since you were team mates and all.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Not really. Sure, we were on the same team. But me and Al didn’t really talk to him off the court. Come to think of it, I didn’t even really like that steroid freak all that much. Maybe Chris has seen him.”

“Have you?” she asked him.

“Uh yeah. I think he’s on the football team now.”

“That’s no surprise.” She then whispered to herself, “He’s such an idiot,”  then continued. “You know what, I don’t even care anymore. Thanks anyways.” She turned as if to walk away, paused, then spun back around to face Chris. “Wait, I hear your band is playing at The General tomorrow night.”

“Yeah,” Chris responded. “You wanna come?”

“Well, I’ve heard your music has a very angry sound, and normally I’m not into that kinda stuff. But I guess it might help me vent off some of my own anger.”

Hearing that, I coughed twice then cleared my throat to single to Chris that her shields are down and it’s time to fire the photon torpedoes.

“Well, it’ll be great if you could come,” he said. “I’ll hook you up with a ticket.”

“I’d love that,” she said, a smile slowly blossoming across her oval face.

“Cool. The show starts at eight. And if you’d like we could hang out afterwards.”

“That’ll be great,” she said with her shy smile remaining. “Anyways, I’ll talk to you later. Bye.”

We gave her our farewells. “Good job, Chris,” I congratulated. “Nice to see you ask out a girl without scratchin’ the back of your neck.”

“Well technically he didn’t ask her out,” Al interjected.

“But still, it’s a start,” I said.

“Hey, would you guys relax,” spat Chris. “And besides, you might learn a thing or two from me.”

Soon after the bell rang and we headed in a couple of minutes later. We had calculus next. On the way, there was this one particular doorway on the third floor of the staircase. It never seemed to be oiled the entire time I’ve been going to that school, and it was the stiffest door you could possibly open. Pulling it open was like weight lifting and I always strained under my strength. As we arrived in class, Cynthia Amina, a girl Al used to date, came hurrying out of the room in tears. Al stopped her to ask what was the matter.

“It’s my sister, she never came home last night,” she said frantically. “We asked her friends, her work; no one knows where she is!”

“For real?” asked Al. “What happened?”

She wiped away more tears. “We don’t know. I’m freakin’ out. But listen, I gotta go. Mr. Gomez just said I could leave. If you guys hear anything can you please let me know?”

“What’s your sisters name?” I asked, becoming more concerned.

“Elicia,” Al replied. “She goes to this school. You’ve probably seen her around.”

Cynthia handed me her phone, and as I looked at the photograph on the screen, I realized why the girl I saw getting mugged seemed so familiar. I was staring at her on her sister’s phone.

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  1. February 22, 2010 at 3:34 am

    good writing continue to do so.

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