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Copyright Š 2017 John Darryl Winston All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published by H2O an imprint of BHC Press Library of Congress Control Number: 2017952239 ISBN: 978-1-946848-92-5 Also available in softcover and ebook Softcover ISBN: 978-1-946848-93-2

Visit the author at: www.bhcpress.com





ory holds the phone between his ear and shoulder as he pulls a notebook from his lab coat. “I understand what you’re attempting to achieve, Avander, but your solution is just too dangerous and completely unnecessary. The human mind alone is the greatest source of power in the universe.” He pulls the phone away from his ear with his free hand, hits the mute button, and says, “System Alpha.” There is a faint humming sound, and before Cory can bring the phone back to his ear, a holographic control panel materializes before him; only he can interact with it. He inputs some information, swipes the screen, and it disappears. He returns the phone to his ear and continues. “I told you before; the mind is the source of electricity, the source of all things. That’s why we were never able to harness or understand it. It comes from within. To input more from an outside source would ultimately overload an already perfect system. It makes absolutely no sense and worse, it’s irrespon-

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sible. It’s unlimited, the power of the mind. You have to start with that as your first premise.” Cory listens to Avander on the other end of the phone as he pulls a small pencil from his notebook, taps it on the counter repeatedly and then writes something. “I’ve gone as far as I can with those subjects … and Wintersal.” He examines the dull lead of the pencil. “No, I appreciate the grant and the technology. I made that clear when I met with the delegates at the summit last June.” Cory turns away from the counter to face the center of the kitchen. “Igod? He’s right in front of me, almost two, getting bigger every day. Cam’s fine, too.” Cory puts the pencil back in the notebook. “Will do.” He ends the call. Cory sets his notebook on the counter behind him. He is determined to keep a positive attitude. He has no reason to believe his hypothesis to be true, but he does. He has to. If Cory is to convince his almost two-year-old son, Naz, that it is possible to move things with his mind and read the thoughts of others, he first has to believe the concept is possible himself. But he goes back and forth. Does he truly believe, or has he convinced himself that he believes? Or is there a difference? Naz sits at the kitchen table in his high chair, LEGO blocks scattered on his tray and the table before him. He is working on something that resembles another riding lawnmower. It has become an obsession with him partly or entirely due to his unfounded fear of them. If the landscapers are cutting the grass, Naz won’t set foot outside. He would rather sit on the sofa in the living room, pull the curtains back, and be amazed. He’ll watch until the landscapers finish as he doesn’t want to miss anything. Then, he returns to the table of LEGOs and constructs a version of what he saw. That is his pastime, and his favorite word for all of his designs is “Da Dowells.” At least that’s what Cory interpreted Naz as saying before he could string real words together.


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Cory nods—he’s ready. Naz has passed all of the old tests too many times. He can go anywhere in the house in complete darkness under normal and even extreme circumstances, even though it scares Camille to death every time Cory administers the test. He can recognize expressions of emotions, both negative and positive, and anticipate the next response when given a reasonable number of responses from which to choose. He can even discern truth with uncanny accuracy when given physical access to the subject in question. Over the last year, Cory used the latest in hologram technology and audio illusions, with a little help from Wintersal Neurological Institute, to turn the Andersen estate into a future world of which one can only dream. The sum total is not a world based on the latest computer or nanotechnology but human capital, the power of the mind. Only it isn’t real; it’s virtual, and no one will take him seriously if he cannot prove his theories correct. He’s used some of these high-tech toys over the years as a simple illusionist, and it was fun to wow the crowd, to disappear and reappear, to make people dream about the full potential of the mind. But he’s tired of dreaming. He picks up his notebook and rechecks his calculations. It is day seven hundred nineteen, seven hundred nineteen days since Naz was born, and since that time Cory has talked to Naz less and less in a traditional sense. He has required Camille do the same, something she detests. They instead think out their words and let the technology embedded in the house transmit them, so they appear to come from everywhere and nowhere. The hologram generators are online, flawless, and completely integrated with the audio solutions, and they all play their part well in creating a reality that humans don’t believe possible. But Cory thinks Naz does, and it’s time to prove it to the world. One more practice run. Cory sits at the table adjacent to Naz and looks at his son with admiration and sadness. Has he, as Ca-

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mille has often said in their heated debates, stolen Naz’s life away, the LEGOs and science fiction movies notwithstanding? Cory glances at his wristwatch, the command control center for his elaborate array of illusions—let’s go. He taps the screen on his watch and hears his voice say, “Good morning, Son.” Holographic LEGOs join the LEGOs already on the table. Naz looks up at Cory but does not respond. Cory taps the screen again, and a little boy with strawberry-blond hair and freckles walks into the kitchen and sits at the table across from Naz. He is slightly older than Naz. Cory continues tapping the screen. Cory turns his attention to the boy. “Good morning, Adam.” Cory’s voice sounds from the system. “Good morning, Dr. Andersen.” Adam looks at Cory with a smile but does not appear to speak, although a child’s words can be heard. Adam turns to Naz and smiles. “Good morning, Igod. Would you like to play?” Still, no words appear to come from Adam, only pleasant expressions. Naz laughs and bounces up and down in his chair. “Would you like a red block, Dr. Andersen?” Adam’s voice sounds from the system. “Yes, thank you, Adam.” Cory’s words fill the room. A red block rises from the table and hovers around Cory. “Would you like a green block, Igod?” Adam’s voice projects again. Naz watches Adam then nods. A green block rises from the table and hovers around Naz. “Son …” Naz looks at Cory, and Cory knows this is the moment of truth. He has never come this far before, never asked the question, too afraid of failure. “Why don’t you give Adam, shall we say … a yellow block, Son.” Naz stares at the table, apparently in thought. A second later a yellow block rises from the table, hovers over to Adam then begins to circle Adam’s head and bounce up and down. Cory brings his


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hand to his chest. His heart is pounding. It’s a part of the system. It has to be. No, it isn’t. I have to believe. “System Omega,” says Cory. Adam and the holographic LEGOs, including the red and green ones that hovered in the air before, disappear, but one yellow LEGO remains in the air, floating over where the hologram of Adam sat seconds ago. “Camille!”



is teeth chattered as it was cold, but not just the temperature, a feeling inside as well, much too cold to be home. Blip … blip … blip Naz heard in time with his heart and something else: vibrations, no, a muffled voice that grew louder and then another. The voices were familiar. But how did I get here … again? Hospital beds freaked him out. But not just the beds, the rooms—come to think of it, the whole hospital. Nothing good ever happened in a hospital, at least that’s what he told himself. He had barely opened one eye to a slit, so it still appeared to be closed from the outside but open enough to see Harvis and Soul sitting across from him facing each other, talking. They still didn’t know he was awake—yessss! He could be what Momma called, “a fly on the wall.” It might not be right, eavesdropping, but like Momma said, “It’s not always about right or wrong. Sometimes, it’s about having a good reason,” and he needed to know what had happened. That was a good enough reason.

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“I hope he wakes up soon.” Soul looked at the figure in the bed from across the room. “Do you think we can win without him?” “We didn’t last year, before he came,” replied Harvis. “But we’re better this year, bigger and stronger, more experienced … and I haven’t got kicked out of one game. Plus, Coach says no one man is worth more than the team.” “I hear ya, but I’d still feel a whole lot better going out on that floor with him tonight.” “No doubt.” Soul reached across and shook Harvis’ hand. What were they talking about? He was lying in a hospital bed, supposedly unconscious and all they were worried about was a stupid basketball game. Well, in all fairness, it was the championship game, something they had worked for all season, to go undefeated and win the championship. That was Coach’s goal. That was their goal. The Railsplitters could make it all happen tonight. But that still didn’t seem like a good enough reason. What could they be thinking? How long have I been unconscious? “It’s been almost two days; nobody sleeps for two days,” Soul said. “The doctor said he passed out from exhaustion, and he could be out for at least that long.” He remembered fire and pain, excruciating pain, not just his own but others’, too. “I thought he was almost electrocuted,” said Soul. “That’s what I said, isn’t it?” That’s not what Harvis said. Did I pass out from exhaustion or was I almost electrocuted? He imagined shaking his head to clear it. Then, he remembered. He had tried to open a screen door that was booby-trapped, rigged with some type of device meant to electrocute anyone who would touch it—no, meant to electrocute me, but why? And that’s about all he remembered, all he wanted to remember. But just the same the memories came, and he shuddered as they clicked in and out of place like choices in a Sims game: two


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realities, one he would choose and one he would refuse, the latter likely to win, he feared. He took a deep breath of silence when he thought they weren’t paying attention. Harvis and Soul quickly turned to him, and he held on to that silence until they looked away. Only then did he release the air in his lungs, taking notice of the hospital scent of disinfectant and—God only knows what else. Satisfied he had not joined their conscious world yet, they continued. “It’s a good thing he tried to open that door before Meri did. There’s no way she would’ve survived that shock, not with her heart condition,” said Harvis. “Well, then I guess he saved her life then, huh?” Soul nodded. “Guess so.” He breathed a sigh of relief then imagined lifting his chest high with pride because he’d done his job. Nothing else mattered more in the whole world to him than Meridian Liberty Andersen and protecting her. He almost laughed out loud with happiness knowing he had saved her life, but he managed to hold it in. Meridian Liberty Andersen, that’s what she called herself now, but to him, she was and always would be his little sister: plain old Meri. Of course, one day when she played tennis at Wimbledon and became a big-time lawyer she would need a big expensive name like Meridian Liberty Andersen—I am my sister’s keeper. His mother wouldn’t have it any other way. She always used to say, “When I’m not here you are your sister’s keeper” and then get at him for trying to quote the Bible. Wait … Momma used to say? A Bible sat on the table next to his bed—the nurse must’ve left it there by accident. “Right now, I wish he’d just wake up. The Railsplitters have unfinished business,” said Soul. “What do you think’ll happen to Ham?” Naz cringed as the mention of the name alone sent shivers up and down his spine, the hair to rise on the back of his neck. He almost gave himself up again. He balled his fists tightly, flexing every muscle in his body as he began to remember. Hector Antonio Martinez was

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the first friend he had made when he came to live in Section 31 last year, and from that point on, he had called him Ham. “Like Naz said, he threw his lot in with the wrong group.” Harvis shrugged. They all had nicknames, and Naz was his. He used to hate his real name but not anymore, not since he decided God had taken everything from him. Igod still sounded funny to him, and everyone except Soul called him Naz, so he stayed with it: Naz, for the Nazarite, Samson, the strongest man in the Bible. He thought of the Bible next to him as he tried to calm down from hearing those three letters linked together, H.A.M. “Come on, Wordsmith, do you really think Ham meant to hurt Tin Man? Why do you think he’d do somethin’ like that? I hear those two used to be thick as thieves … before school started. There has to be more to it; it just doesn’t make sense.” “It doesn’t have to make sense. Remember, it’s Ham we’re talkin’ about here, and I’m sure there is more to it,” said Harvis. “True story … so what do we do now?” “All we can do … wait.” “Well, he always did want longer hair. Look at it now. I guess it’s true what they say happens when you stick your finger in a light socket.” Soul laughed. Naz relaxed and almost laughed again as he realized the two of them had jokes, which was odd considering how long he had been unconscious. It just didn’t seem right they made jokes about him, no less. He thought about what his hair must’ve looked like and held back a laugh again. Harvis smiled slightly and shook his head. “Don’t feel like you have to talk … Animal.” “Come on, Wordsmith; you know how I feel about that nickname; it’s just Soul from now on.” Soul talked a lot, and Harvis didn’t talk much, unless he was reciting poetry, saying a prayer, or rapping. Then he wouldn’t shut up either.


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Naz’s throat felt like sandpaper. He could barely swallow. Although, with the taste in his mouth he doubted he would even want to try. But he was so thirsty he decided it was time. He opened his other eye, barely. Still undetected, he turned to one side and saw his hand wrapped in gauze. The handle on the screen door must’ve burned it. Only there was no pain, which made no sense at all. The doctors must’ve given me something for the pain. Naz hated drugs, any drugs but especially the ones they sold on the streets. He had seen what they could do to a man—take the life right out of ’im. He was covered from chest to toe in bright white sheets that seemed to shimmer. They gave off an aura like he was an angel. There are no such things as angels, he reminded himself. A tube came out of the middle of his other arm and another from his nose. Déjà vu, he thought. Only something was different this time, something he didn’t want to think about. “Tin Man!” Soul said, excitedly. Then, putting the clamps on his enthusiasm, continued calmly, “You’re awake.” “How do you feel, Naz?” Harvis asked. It’s good to have friends that care about you. It’s good to have family. Sometimes they’re one and the same. Naz attempted to join in their joking session. “With my hands, Wordsmith.” He failed miserably. Soul agreed. “Oh, Tin Man … that’s terrible. You should leave the jokes to me.” Naz never could seem to hit the mark when he tried to be funny. It just didn’t come naturally, as so many other things did for him. “At least you haven’t found your sense of humor,” Harvis added. Even Harvis, the Wordsmith, the Iceman himself, hit the target once in a while when it came to making a joke, but not Naz, although he never stopped trying. “Yeah, I’ll leave that to Animal.” Naz smirked at Harvis. Soul shot back, “I keep tellin’ you guys—” “I know! It’s not Animal; it’s Soul,” interrupted Naz.

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Harvis stood and approached Naz with a cup of water although Naz didn’t recall where Harvis had gotten it—did I tell him I was thirsty? Naz strategically avoided tangling the cup in the tube coming out of his arm then eagerly downed the water before anyone said another word. “Well, are you ready for tonight?” Soul shrugged off Naz’s earlier comment. “Tonight?” Naz almost choked on the last drops of water. “Yeah, tonight,” Harvis chimed in. “Winner take all. It’s ride or die for the Railsplitters. All of our efforts this season come down to this last game.” Were they serious? Did they really expect Naz to be able to play basketball tonight? Naz looked down at himself in confusion, the tubes coming from his nose and arm, his bandaged hand. He understood such an attitude from Soul, the reformed hothead, but not Harvis. Like Spock, he was a rock, solid and logical. Naz decided to dig deeper. “Where’s Coach?” asked Naz. Before Harvis or Soul could answer, as if Naz’s two words had summoned some great genie, Coach Fears opened the door and stuck his head inside. When Naz saw Fears’ face, he realized this was no déjà vu but a dream, and he smiled, anticipating what came next. “Don’t bother knocking, Coach; come on in,” said Soul. “Gentlemen.” Fears nodded to Naz and then Harvis. “And you, too, Bender,” he added, looking at Soul after the fact. “Aw, Coach.” Soul shook his head. Fears’ massive physical presence in the small room made the cramped space appear even smaller, as his head almost touched the ceiling. “Andersen.” Fears turned back to Naz. “How do you feel?” Naz looked at Harvis and Soul, resisting another stab at humor. “Fine, Coach.” “Good, ’cause we need you tonight.” The size of the room didn’t seem to bother Fears as he paced back and forth next to Naz’s bed


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in an entrancing march. “We’ll have our hands full. Going into the championship game undefeated actually puts us at a disadvantage. Our opponents will have studied every mistake they’ve made this season in their losses and not make those mistakes again. We won’t have that luxury.” The game meant everything to Fears. He saw it as a reflection of life itself. Naz barely understood Fears’ words through his pacing, but he knew Fears was dead serious and wanted him there tonight, dressed out, and ready to leave everything on the hardwood. “We only learn from our mistakes and failures. But we’ve been perfect this year, so we’ll need another advantage.” Fears raised an eyebrow. “Well, I’m ready, Coach!” Naz smiled and played along, fully aware of the advantage Fears referred to, that Naz could do things courtesy of his father, unbelievable things, supernatural things that no one else could do—or can I? “I knew I could count on you.” “Thank you,” Naz said, and knowing his dream would end at any moment, he asked, “Where’s Meri?” Coach turned to the door. Harvis and Soul had gone. As if on cue, Meri strolled in with the swagger of a tomboy, her sandy red hair in two puffy pigtails bouncing up and down, her caramel skin glowing. Naz could hardly contain himself. He didn’t even try. “Meri!” said Naz. Coach stepped aside as if he’d just finished his only lines in one of their school plays. “How do you feel,” she asked calmly. Not sure how to answer, this time, Naz gave the question right back to her. “How do you feel?” She answered without hesitation. “I feel proud …” This time, Naz contained his feelings of excitement in anticipation of the next words she would say. “But at the same time disappointed,” she continued.

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Afraid to ask why, Naz changed the subject before she could finish. “Hey, Firecracker, did Momma come?” Meri gazed above Naz’s bed. A spider climbed down its web. When the creepy crawler was low enough, she grabbed the web and pulled the hanging spider down. It dangled for a moment a foot below her hand then she moved it over the floor. They both watched as the spider crawled back up the web until it was about an inch from her hand when she flicked it, web and all, to the floor and watched it crawl away. Naz scratched his head. “Momma? She’s here,” Meri murmured. “Is she coming in to see me?” “No, I don’t think so.” Naz knew his mother was there but didn’t summon her into his dream. “You know, I’ve never met a girl who wasn’t scared of spiders.” “You taught me to never be afraid of anything.” “I was wrong; you should be afraid of some things.” “I feel proud because you’re my brother … but I’m disappointed because you’re weak when you should be strong, and you feel sorry for yourself.” Naz looked at the floor. “I … I failed you.” “That’s what I mean … all the self-pity. It makes me sick. You’ve been given a gift that others have paid for with their lives … and you squander it.” “What should I do? I don’t have your strength. I never did.” “Then find it! Find a reason to live … a reason to go on. Have you been practicing?” Put off by her verbal assault and surprised by her query, Naz responded with silence. “Have … you … been … practicing!?” she blasted again. Naz answered the best way he knew how, with a half-truth. “It’s too late for practice. I’ve been asleep for almost two days, and the game’s tonight.” “You know what I mean.”


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“I have but not in the right way.” “Then you need to start … today … and practice every day after that, or you’ll fail me again.” Meri’s words were true, but Naz changed the subject again. “What about Daddy?” “What about Daddy!?” Meri tutted, tilting her head to the side and taking her earlobe between her fingers. Fears was gone. Music playing in the distance grew steadily louder, and Naz felt in his conscious awareness he was running out of time. “You wanna play?” Meri asked lightly as if she were a different person from the one that just scolded Naz. She disappeared under the bed and came back with a chess set and the biggest smile Naz had ever seen. “No … we don’t have much time.” “Why? Do you have to go?” “We both do,” he said desperately, slowly losing hold of the dream. “What about Daddy? Is he here, too?” “No … he’s with—” Meri’s voice faded away, and her image disappeared to nothing as Naz reached out for her. “Meri!” Naz said as he woke up, opened his eyes, and reached out into the darkness of his bedroom. He pulled his hand back into a frustrated fist then let gravity return him to his pillow. He shook his head, the pace of his heart slowing in his ear—I need to get it through my thick skull; “Meri’s gone now, gone for good, gone forever. The only part of her that still exists is the part I make up in my mind.” In my lucid dreams.



az stopped the music on his phone. Practice huh? He sat up, cleared his head, and wiped his eyes. Dr. Gwen’s guestroom had been Naz’s bedroom for more than six months now, and although she had encouraged him to modify the room in any way he liked, it remained unchanged. He couldn’t get comfortable in the space. Something wasn’t right. Naz would never get back to sleep—not now. He didn’t want to. Today was the big day, the day he’d get kicked out of International Academy and return home, to the Exclave, if the plan worked. Who would’ve thought he’d ever want to get back there? Kinda grew on me I guess. The truth was, he had unfinished business there. He thought about Soul’s words in his dream, only Naz’s business had nothing to do with basketball. Naz called his best friend, one of his only friends, Harvis, to go over the plan, not giving any thought to how early it was. “Harvis,” Naz said sheepishly, just now realizing he had called the Wordsmith much too early, earlier than even the finest friendship would permit. “N … Naz?” Harvis answered, groggy.


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“Hey, ol’ buddy ol’ pal, what’s up?” “Nothing … and nobody,” he answered coldly. “Do you know what time it is?” “I do. Sorry.” Naz apologized in his most sincere tone as he looked at the time on his phone. “Two and a half hours before we have to be at school. Today’s the day, you know?” “I know.” “I couldn’t sleep.” “I figured that part out, too.” “How can you sleep? You wanna work out?” “Not really. Are you serious?” “All right then, I’ll see you at school,” Naz conceded with a sad tone, but a glimmer of hope in his voice. “Wait,” said Harvis. Naz smiled. “Now I won’t be able to sleep either.” “Sorry.” “No, you’re not … and I’m gonna kick your butt for it when you get here, too.” “I was afraid you’d say that.” “See you in half an hour.” “Thank you.” Harvis and Naz sparred every chance they got, and more often than not Harvis got the best of Naz. Of course, they never actually kept score. It just felt like Harvis won more than his fair share of their controlled scuffles. Practice, Meri had said. Well, there was no time like the present. It was almost two miles to the General’s house: a little over a ten-minute run for Naz with his pack on his back. His clothes were ready, and he’d shower at Harvis’ after their workout. He decided to practice while brushing his teeth. In the bathroom, Naz didn’t need the light; he’d grown accustomed to the darkness both in a figurative and literal sense. As he brushed his teeth and twisted a tendril of his hair, now over two

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inches long, he levitated the tube of toothpaste—easy enough, nothing to manipulate here. He had once tried to brush his teeth without using his hands and ended up with an eyeful of toothpaste. He’d blinked and rubbed his eye for the next two days. When Naz practiced mental molecular manipulation, or M3 with his therapist, Dr. Gwen, she had compared his improvement in moving objects using his mind with the development of fine and gross motor skills. She hypothesized it was easier to dribble a basketball (gross motor skill) than play piano ( fine motor skill) or in this case brush his teeth. He hadn’t done much practice with Dr. Gwen lately. For reasons he didn’t understand, she was much more interested in him regaining his lost memories than improving his ability to use telepathy or telekinesis. Then, Naz levitated the bar of soap, again, easy. The problem was, the soap moved in sync with the tube of toothpaste. The trick was to get them to move independently of each other, a kind of telekoordination, as Dr. Gwen called it. Naz compared it to rubbing his stomach and patting the top of his head at the same time, or vice versa. He believed Dr. Gwen made up the word, as there was no other use for the concept except as it applied to his abilities. Next, he went for the bottle of mouthwash. He turned it on its side and made it float as well. The soap and tube of toothpaste were no longer in sync—Eureka! Maybe that’s the key, to have an intense focus and let go. He had dreamed this the night before his first day at Lincoln Middle School over a year ago. There was only one thing missing, so he lifted a towel as well to complete the déjà vu. That’s when he heard the voice—Meri’s voice—say one word as clear as a church bell on a silent night. “Good!” He almost jumped straight out of his pajamas. Everything fell, the soap and tube of toothpaste into the sink, the towel on top of his head, and the bottle of mouthwash to the floor where the top cracked in half, sending mouthwash all over the bathroom and the bottom of his pajama pants, ultimately disturbing the morning silence.


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Then, he heard the faint sounds of a girl’s laughter, Meri’s laughter, and it scared him to death. And lately, nothing on this earth scared him, not in the light of day or the darkest night. But this was different, a first. There was no one around for him to hear anyone’s thoughts, but just the same, he heard Meri’s voice—I always do, in my lucid dreams. But he wasn’t dreaming, and he was ninety-nine percent sure of that fact—no, one hundred. And since he didn’t believe in angels, he didn’t think he believed in ghosts either. He heard Dr. Gwen call him from her bedroom and this time almost jumped clear to the ceiling. “Is that you, Naz?” she asked. “Yeah.” He finally turned on the light. “Is everything okay?” “Yeah, I just dropped the mouthwash.” He finished brushing his teeth, cleaned up the mess he had made with the towel now hanging off his shoulder, got dressed, and left. The run to the General’s house was peaceful as always. It was early December and unseasonably warm. The emerald green windbreaker he wore was more than sufficient, and the air Naz thought he might see escaping from his lungs was absent—it was like this last year about the same time Meri … He shook the thought from his mind. In the dark here, he had almost grown to feel like he didn’t have to watch his back anymore, almost. But a sound from nowhere always reminded him of his past, a dog barking, a random breeze whistling through the tangled branches overhead, even a questioning owl brought him back to the truth and reality that all that glittered was not—well you know the rest. Even so, the sounds here calmed him as they always had, which caused him to reflect on the things and the people he’d left behind. He thought of his friends in Marshal Park. He wondered if Mr. Tesla and the Market Merchants were doing OK without their star supply specialist. Mr. Tesla had texted him last month that Pic-

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colo’s had finally closed their doors, and he couldn’t help but wonder how his absence had contributed to Mr. Moussa closing the place down for good. Naz had heard that Coach had continued his winning ways at Union High School, going 2-0 to start the season, and Soul was one of only two freshmen on the varsity squad, something the other players didn’t like. The strife had supposedly caused Soul to revert to his volatile ways, only now he not only fought his opponents but his teammates as well. Naz hadn’t heard from the volatile manchild in a few weeks and figured that long distance was—well, long distance. He missed Soul, missed the jokes, missed laughing. He didn’t remember laughing so much before, and he hadn’t laughed much since moving out to the suburbs. And then there was D. He grinned from ear to ear, and then the smile faded because he hadn’t heard from her since he had left that day—the day of Meri’s funeral—almost a year ago. He couldn’t seem to erase her image from his brain and wasn’t sure he would ever want to. Once upon a time, he couldn’t keep the picture of her clear in his mind’s eye. Now it never faded—Maybe I’ll see her after today. Maybe he’d see them all, if the plan worked, and if he and Harvis didn’t end up in juvenile detention hall. He had gotten to the General’s house before he knew it. It was still dark as he approached, and although it was not as lavish as Dr. Gwen’s, the General’s house still amazed him: how it sat back off the street on a mound of plush green lawn, the circular drive leading to a regal wooden carved door flanked by two massive picture windows. It made him wonder why Harvis, or himself for that matter, would want to go back—back to the streets of the Exclave. Like Soul had said, “after you’ve been here a while, the place kinda grows on you”—like mold. Add to that; he couldn’t imagine the houses in the suburbs having anything on the inside of Fears’ house, and he knew Harvis couldn’t wait to get back there. For his part, Naz wasn’t sure where he would stay—maybe one of the shelters or sneak in the all-night theaters and walk the


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streets like he did this past winter and spring. The thought gave him the chills, not being homeless or the cold days and dark nights but the devastation he had inflicted on those wretched souls: the Incubus Apostles. Most likely he would find a home with Mr. Tesla and get to see his bird again. As he walked up the stairs, not wanting to alarm the General by knocking or ringing the doorbell, he pulled out his phone to text Harvis. Before he could type a digit, the front door opened. “Grandma was slow, but she was old,” said Harvis, his voice still groggy as he peered through half-opened eyes out the halfopened door. “Still fast enough to smoke you, tortoise.” Naz pushed his way by Harvis into the elegant foyer. “Yeah, but we’re not about to race … unless you plan on running from this.” Harvis closed the door, turned, and gestured his fist toward Naz. Naz scoffed then proceeded down the familiar hallway to the basement stairs. If there was any room on the planet that rivaled the inside of Fears’ house it was the dojo in the basement of the General’s house: a place that Harvis liked to call his own “Fortress of Solitude.” It was a large square room with two wooden beams equally spaced apart supporting the ceiling. The floor consisted of a material that made it soft but stable, almost like immovable soil. Asian panel art hung on every wall, courtesy of Harvis’ mother. Naz hadn’t met her, and the only time Harvis spoke of her was to say the General had met her while being stationed in the Orient. Unique-shaped benches occupied every corner of the dojo. One bench took the form of a praying mantis, another, two primates in prayer, and a third, where Harvis and Naz sat, was a bird of prey with wings spread in a dive. They outfitted themselves in head and footgear, gloves and shin guards. “Are you sure about this?” Naz fastened the last strap on his shin guard.

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“It’s a little late to ask that now.” Harvis stood and punched his fist into his palm. “Whatever.” Naz stood to face Harvis knowing Harvis understood what he was asking. “I’m talking about the plan.” “I know. Why? You gettin’ scared … buc, buc, buc, buc, buc, buquaaaak.” Naz laughed as he walked past Harvis to the middle of the floor, put in his mouth guard, and prepared to engage. “I ain’t scared of nothin’.” Naz sensed something, danger it felt like—but how can that be … here in the General’s house? “You of all people—” Before Naz could finish, he was driven to and across the floor by a forceful kick in the butt from Harvis. “—should know that,” Naz finished face down, flat on the soft floor. He rolled over casually on an elbow and faced Harvis with a smile. “Never turn your back on your opponent,” said Harvis as he stood in a fighting stance poised to strike again. “Oh … so now you’re gonna cheat, huh?” “Not cheating … I told you I was gonna kick your butt.” “You did.” Naz got up slowly, acknowledging his carelessness with a nod. He approached Harvis cautiously, his palms out in a position of surrender and goodwill. When Naz was about four feet away, he stood up straight then gave a trusting bow of respect. Harvis bowed in return, taking his eyes off Naz for only a second. The second was all Naz needed. Harvis tried to reset himself, but it was too late. He had left his guard down. Naz took playful revenge by quickly dropping down to a threepoint stance, and in one motion, taking Harvis off his feet with an Iron Broom leg sweep before Harvis could counter or defend himself. Harvis crashed to the soft floor with a muffled thud, while Naz sprung back up like a cat and danced around Harvis, amused. “Now … we’re even.” Naz laughed. Harvis got up slowly, flexed his head side to side then smiled. “OK, let’s go … Tin Man,” he said as he put up his hands and bounced rhythmically on his toes.


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They watched and circled each other cautiously at first, neither wanting to initiate the next move. “So,” said Naz. “What’s the plan?” Harvis’ answer came in the form of seven rapid punches and hand techniques. Prepared with sheer speed and movement alone, Naz evaded all of them with ease, never having to block one punch. They continued to circle each other. “It’s simple,” Harvis finally answered. “We grab the first nerd that comes by our locker and tell him to give up his lunch money.” Just as Harvis finished, Naz feigned a snap kick to his kneecap followed by a side kick to the solar plexus, a back fist to the bridge of the nose, and he closed out with a straight punch to the ribs. Harvis ignored the snap kick and nonchalantly blocked everything else. Naz finished the combination by resorting to his tried and true, Iron Broom leg sweep, and Harvis jumped high in the air to avoid the technique as if he knew it was coming. Harvis threw a spinning hook kick on the way down, which Naz narrowly evaded. Naz jumped up, Harvis landed, and they continued their circle-dance in the opposite direction. “I don’t know; it sounds kinda forced … made up. You think it’ll work?” Naz asked. “Better than that tired Iron Broom leg sweep you’ve been using for years … look, International Academy, like everybody else, has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bullying, only they enforce it, so all we have to do is our job, and the school will have to do theirs.” Naz felt like he was whining but had to ask. “What about the General … and Dr. Gwen?” “A Young man must be prepared to suffer the consequences of his actions. I am such a Young man. Are you?” Naz lunged forward with a lightning quick, vicious hook kick that landed flush on the side of Harvis’ head. It was times like these that Naz was grateful for the General’s unwavering rule that they wear full fighting gear at all times while sparring as a broken jaw

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would’ve most assuredly been the result. “What do you think?” Naz asked as he danced away with an air of supreme confidence. Harvis nodded as if to acknowledge both Naz’s scored hit on the side of his headgear and the acceptance of Naz’s answer to his rhetorical question. Naz had done and seen enough things, terrible things in the last year of his life, so much so that there were very few things in the world he feared. But he still had a problem when someone else was involved—involved in my mess. Maybe I have what D called a “hero complex.” He shrugged it off. Harvis had been a great friend to Naz, the very best. During his darkest times, Harvis was there, every time, as a lone beacon of light to stop Naz from going down—going under for good. I owe him much. Naz would hate for Harvis to get in trouble on his account. But something told Naz that Harvis felt as strongly as he did about their mission, and Harvis’ conviction had nothing to do with him which allowed Naz to forge ahead on his present path. Naz decided to change the subject. “What are we gonna do about Soul?” he asked. “What are you gonna do about D?” “What do you mean?” “Have you called her? Have you even texted her?” “No, but she hasn’t called or texted me either.” “Remind me again, how old are you … ten? “Whatever,” said Naz as he attacked with the same lunge kick as before, aiming at the same target and missing by a country mile. “You know what they say about pride?” Harvis hit Naz with a harmless jab to the forehead as Naz flew by during his second telegraphed lunge kick. “Enlighten me,” Naz challenged. “It’s one of the seven deadly sins. King Solomon wrote in Proverbs that the Lord hates a proud look.” “Thanks, mom. Is Sunday school over now?” “You, are hopeless … heathen.” “Clearly, now what are we gonna do about Soul?”


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“You should be more worried about me right now.” Harvis blitzed Naz with a barrage of techniques from every angle. Naz was able to fend off Harvis effectively until Harvis switched styles. Harvis had been studying martial arts for more than ten years now, since before he turned four years old. The General believed that learning one style or discipline was limiting, and it was not possible to master any concept in life, so when Harvis reached the level of second-degree black belt in one style, per the General’s orders, he moved on to a new style. He started out studying Okinawan Isshinryu Karate until he was eight at which time he switched to American Freestyle: a form of Taekwondo. For the last two years, it had been Wing Chun. Harvis had told Naz several times how he hated studying martial arts up until five years ago, and every time he told Naz, he gave him a funny look, as if he was waiting for some type of response. Naz always responded the same way, with “what?” Harvis confided in Naz that something happened five years ago that changed his life forever, but he wouldn’t ever tell Naz what it was. Harvis said when he started studying Wing Chun, he became dedicated because Bruce Lee studied Wing Chun and next to Superman, Bruce Lee was Harvis’ biggest hero. Superman not being real made Bruce Lee number one in both their books. Naz wasn’t sure what style of martial arts he had studied or for how long. He only knew that he had and for long enough to compete with Harvis. Harvis thought he might know the style but wasn’t telling. Harvis felt it gave him an advantage—He’s probably right. Naz took a back-fist to the nose, which caused his eyes to water slightly. This blitzing and style-switching type of attack was when Harvis usually got the best of Naz, and even though Naz knew it was coming, he was still unable to make the necessary adjustments to keep Harvis off of him. Today Harvis managed to back Naz into a corner with a barrage of what Naz liked to call ‘Chinese Connection’ kicks. It was from a Bruce Lee movie of the same title where

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Lee launched eight rapid-fire spinning hook kicks at rival students, dispatching every one of them in the process. The only difference here was it was just Naz. In desperation, Naz managed to block one of his spinning kicks with a kick of his own, which Naz beamed at in his mind with pride. The block ended Harvis’ prolonged attack and took him off balance, but Harvis managed to unleash one last vicious right cross. Naz’s instincts took over, and he moved his head just enough to avoid the punch and simultaneously grab Harvis’ fist. Naz immediately hooked Harvis’ arm with his own then quickly maneuvered behind Harvis to lock his other arm behind his head in a half nelson. Although Naz had the upper hand for the moment, he had put himself in somewhat of a predicament. Harvis and Naz were the same height and build, but Harvis was stronger as a result of his morning and evening pushup regimen, not to mention Harvis outweighed Naz by ten pounds and also excelled in wrestling. At that moment Naz had a vision, a flash in his mind, more than a déjà vu this time. He had been here before in this position with Harvis, in the same place but another time. He shook the thought from his head when he felt Harvis beginning to break his grip. Naz attempted to distract Harvis with some macho repartee—I hate macho repartee. “Say ‘uncle.’” Naz struggled. “Really?!” Harvis scoffed. Now was probably a good time for Naz to let Harvis go and count his losses, but before he could, Harvis took one powerful step back and quickly dropped to the floor. The move sent Naz flying over Harvis’ head where he landed flat on his behind. Naz flipped over and tried to get up, but Harvis pounced on him before he could make it to his feet. He twisted Naz’s arm behind his back and fed him his own words. “What was that, ‘uncle?’” Harvis laughed. “Uncle!” Naz moaned. “Not good enough.”


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“What?” “Now what’s the problem … why are you here so early?” “I don’t get it!” “Why are you here so early, today?” Harvis repeated, louder this time. “Because I couldn’t sleep … I told you that,” Naz said, trying to act as if he were not in pain. “Why couldn’t you sleep?” “Because I had a dream … a lucid dream, and you, Soul and Coach were in it, and Meri, too.” “That’s every night! What else?” Harvis continued to put pressure on Naz’s arm, twisting it to its limit. “Meri told me she was disappointed in me because I’m weak, and I need to stop feeling sorry for myself.” “All true … what else?” “She told me that I needed to practice … every day.” “It’s just a dream, Naz … the same old dream.” “I don’t think it is,” Naz struggled to say. “Later when I was completely awake in the bathroom practicing, I heard Meri’s voice again say ‘good’ and then I heard her laugh.” Harvis scoffed and shook his head. “You need to get it through your head; Meri’s gone now, gone for good, gone forever.” Naz had said almost these exact words to himself that morning when he woke up and many times before, but hearing them uttered out loud with such an air of disregard set him off in the worst possible way. Naz wrapped his leg around Harvis’ leg and locked it, which caused Harvis to loosen his grip on Naz’s arm. Naz took advantage of this lapse, snatched his arm away and elbowed Harvis in the side. Naz rolled away and sprang to his feet. He waited until Harvis recovered because something had awakened inside. Harvis seemed to realize this as well, and it excited him. “Now that’s more like it,” said Harvis with a spark in his eye.

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Harvis came at Naz relentlessly with everything he had, switching back and forth between styles again. But it was useless. Naz could see every technique, every punch and kick before Harvis could execute it, and it was as if Harvis had slowed down—or maybe I’ve sped up. In any case, Naz blocked or evaded everything Harvis had to offer with ease. This exchange went on for more than a minute non-stop with Harvis growing ever more determined to score against Naz’s now impenetrable defense. Harvis’ offense acted as a serviceable defense, but Naz still scored almost at will, sometimes just missing on purpose and with a maniacal smile to inflame the usually unemotional Wordsmith all the more. As Harvis ratcheted up, Naz matched his intensity, and soon sweat fell to the floor in droplets, their breathing labored but neither willing to let up. These were the times Naz got the best of Harvis because he went to a level that wasn’t always attainable, and Harvis seemed to relish the challenge. Their furious exchange found them both on the floor again, legs tangled, blood trickling from Harvis’ nose and mouth. As they grappled, another presence observed. Harvis Young senior, the General, stood in full uniform dress blues, double rows of silver buttons going down the chest with decorations on the right side, a formal military hat in hand, shoes polished to the point of having the appearance of glass, and those three stars on his shoulders that called Naz to immediate action and attention. “Sir!” Naz said in a formal tone. He jumped up quickly, stood at attention, and saluted with his right index finger at his brow, his hand at a slight angle, just the way Harvis had shown him. “Morning, Dad,” said Harvis as he got up a second later with much less urgency than Naz. He saluted almost as an afterthought. With his free hand, Harvis casually wiped the blood away from his face. The General switched his hat to his left hand then saluted the two boys. Naz breathed a sigh of relief and only then lowered his salute.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR John Darryl Winston is a graduate of the Motion Picture Institute of Michigan, the Recording Institute of Detroit, and Wayne State University. He also holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. He is an educator, coach, musician, and songwriter, but considers himself an author first—mainly because he believes that miracles and dreams live in the written word. He lives in Michigan with his daughter Marquette and intends to acquire an African Grey parrot one day when he conquers his irrational fear of birds.

Profile for BHC Press

IA: Union by John Darryl Winston  

Imprint: BHC Press/H2O Genre: YA/Teen/Science Fiction Release Date: 11/24/2017 Description: The hardest battle isn’t fought with fists, but...

IA: Union by John Darryl Winston  

Imprint: BHC Press/H2O Genre: YA/Teen/Science Fiction Release Date: 11/24/2017 Description: The hardest battle isn’t fought with fists, but...

Profile for bhcpress