My head was spinning the following morning as I blinked my eyes open. I had a vague recollection of my Aunt Madison walking me to my room after I had yelled at everyone in the kitchen. Luckily for me, nobody was home when I went downstairs. I stumbled into the kitchen and with a pounding headache, I made my way to the refrigerator to get a bottle of water. I had just started to feel better when the back door of the house opened, and Brayden stepped inside with my little brother in tow.
“Hey, Brayden.” I greeted my friend with a brief smile. “What are you doing here?”
Elliott stepped around the table and hugged my leg tightly before he went to sit at the table. Brayden sat down next to my brother while I struggled to figure out why my entire body ached.
“Well, I was going to give you a gift for your birthday, but then I remembered that it wasn’t until tomorrow.”
Elliott giggled at Brayden’s attempt at a joke.
“Why are you so pale, Elijah?” Brayden asked as he looked at me in concern. “You look like shit.”
“I feel like shit,” I acknowledged before I took another drink of water. “I was going to go for a run, but I think I’m going to have to pass for today.”
“You may want to pass for a few days, Elijah.” Brayden advised with a light chuckle. Elliott ignored both of us as I sat on the other side of my friend. He immediately put the back of his hand against my forehead. “You’re really warm.”
“I have no idea why I feel like this, dude.” I said with a groan as I buried my head in my arms on the table. My head was still pounding painfully. “I swear I was fine last night!”
“Maybe, Aunt Mattie can give you something that’ll make you feel better.” He suggested with a shrug.
“Hopefully,” I said with a sigh. “I hate feeling like this.”
I grabbed my water bottle and headed for the living room. I made myself comfortable on the sofa and pulled the blanket over my lower body. If I was going to be sick, I was going to spend the day firmly planted on the living room sofa, watching television. Brayden sat down near my feet while Elliott studied the spot I was occupying to see if there was enough room for him. I smiled as I slid myself back on the couch and patted the cushion in front of me.The four-year-old smiled happily before he joined me.
“So much for that idea,” Brayden complained as he reached down to tickle one of my feet.
“What idea?” I asked with a giggle as I yanked my foot back.
“I’m allowed to have one Guest Pass each week at the park,” he said with a frown. “I was going to give it to you, so you could come to the park with Anisa and Corban.”
“Sorry,” I apologized. I tried to force a smile at my friend, though. “Thanks for thinking of me though, Brayden. I appreciate it.”
I blushed nervously as the brown-haired teen smiled at me. He always made me feel weird inside, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell him about those feelings. I couldn’t tell him how I always fought the urge to hold his hand whenever we were walking together. I couldn’t tell him that every single time he spoke to me it was like music to my ears. Even on my worst days, he could make me smile just by talking to me. And, I could never tell him how much I just wanted him to hold me in his arms. It would ruin everything we had together. We were best friends, and we had been since we were little kids. I would do anything to keep that relationship safe, even if it meant breaking my own heart knowing I could never have Brayden the way I truly wanted.
“I should probably go since you’re awake, now.” He said softly as his brown eyes gazed at me for a moment. I felt myself blush under his stare, but I couldn’t break away from it. His eyes were a magnet for mine, or so it seemed. I would always find myself getting lost in his eyes, even if the contact was just for a moment.
“You don’t have to leave,” I said. I didn’t want him to leave. . . Ever.
Brayden grinned at me smugly.
“You probably shouldn’t be taking care of your little brother while you’re sick,” he suggested.
“You’re probably right,” I said with a giggle as Elliott pushed himself tightly against me. I passed the remote to Brayden. “Here, you’re in charge of the entertainment.”
Elliott’s attention quickly focused on the screen as Brayden chose ‘Ice Age’ for our morning movie.
“You better be well enough to go to the park with me next weekend, Eli.” Brayden scolded me.
I smiled at my friend.
“I should be able to,” I told him. “You know Aunt Mattie probably has something to help with this.”
“To help with what, Elijah?” Brayden and I both jumped at the sound of Aunt Mattie’s voice coming from the kitchen doorway behind us. She came around the couch with a look of concern on her face and kneeled next to me.”What’s wrong, nephew?”
“All I know is that I feel like crap, Aunt Mattie.” I said sheepishly.
The gray-haired woman put the wrist of her hand against my forehead and frowned.
“You’re very warm,” she said in concern.
“What’s wrong with me, Aunt Mattie?”
“You probably just have a touch of the flu, nephew.” Aunt Mattie told me pointedly. “I’ll go make you some tea.”
“Thanks, Aunt Mattie.”
Aunt Madison returned to the kitchen, and Elliott was quick to follow with a comment about cookies, leaving Brayden and I alone.
“I hope you feel better soon, Eli.” My friend said as he reached up and squeezed my leg gently.
“Thanks, Brayden.” I said sheepishly. “What time do you work?”
“Three to nine,” he replied. “Anisa and Corban are going to be riding a few rides after we all get off work.”
“I wish I could go.”
“Me, too.” Brayden said as he smiled at me. His brown eyes looked like they were filled with sadness and longing for a moment before he suddenly stood from the couch. “I should probably go get ready for work. I’ll give you a call later to see how you’re doing.”
“Okay,” I said as I watched him walk towards the front door. “Thanks for coming over this morning, Brayden.”
Brayden slipped out the door after flashing me a nervous smile just before Aunt Mattie returned to the living room with a plate of cookies and a mug of tea.
“Where did Brayden go?” She asked as she set the platter on the coffee table.
“He had to get ready for work,” I said with a frown.
Aunt Mattie motioned for me to sit up a little bit so she could sit beside me. The moment she sat down, I leaned against her with a weary sigh.
“Where did Brayden get a job at?”
“The amusement park,” I said as my aunt handed me the tea. “Thanks.”
I sipped the tea for a moment with a grin.
“This is really good, Aunt Mattie.”
“I hope so,” she replied as she hugged me. “I’ve been making it for decades.”
“You’re not afraid of getting sick?”
“No, Elijah.” She said smugly. “I haven’t been truly sick in a long time.” Then, she rocked me slightly in her arms. “Besides, I would never pass up the little moments like these with you and your brother.”
“I love you too, Aunt Mattie.”
Aunt Mattie sat with me for a few more minutes before she dramatically announced that she was going to start working on my birthday cake, so it would be ready by the next afternoon. I sipped the tea slowly and tried to stay awake as Aunt Madison repeatedly checked on my condition. The answer was always the same.
“Nothing’s changed,” I would mutter quietly as I struggled to remain conscious. No matter how much I tried though, Aunt Mattie’s tea finally won the battle and made me drift off.
“I was wondering how long it was going to take him to fall asleep,” I heard Aunt Mattie say. Her voice sounded distant like she was slowly getting further away until I could barely make out what she was saying. “I thought I was going to have to use magic to put him under.”
I heard my mother laugh slightly.
“I’ll summon the members of the Summit,” my mother said. “They should be able to make sense of this.”
Then, I felt the couch dip slightly as someone sat down next to me.
“Relax, little one.” Aunt Mattie said softly as she stroked my cheek. “We’ll have you feeling better soon enough. Then, I’m going to have a long chat with Jarik about breaking the rules. Someone needs to teach him some manners.”
I felt her touch the palm of her hand to the side of my face before I slipped even deeper into my drug induced slumber. A tingling sensation began to fill my mind as I saw images of Brayden appear suddenly. Each one was just as fleeting as the one prior to it, but each of them was focused solely on Brayden, and his golden-brown eyes. Thinking about my best friend made my stomach feel like it was twisting in knots as I sank even deeper into the unconsciousness of my mind. In all of my memories, Brayden was always there, and we were always supporting each other. He was my strength through everything in life.
Then, Brayden was yanked away from me, and I found myself standing in the center of downtown Bellefontaine. It wasn’t the present day, though. I could tell that easily. It was far in the past.
Wagons were overturned, and fire burned through the courthouse, leaving no part of the structure unmolested by its heat. A young man and a blonde-haired girl were crouched down behind a wagon lying on its side. Both of their gazes were fixated on four figures standing directly in front of the courthouse facing each other in a circle. They each wore black-hooded robes, and their arms were stretched out over the ground between them. I had saw this before. It was part of the reoccurring nightmare of my mother’s own death. A nightmare that I wasn’t sure if I could get over completely. The boy and girl were arguing as I approached behind them, but I could just hear their words.
“I told you to stay hidden, Samantha!” The boy scolded the girl.
“The Prophecy won’t let me stay away, Lucas.” She said calmly. “We all have our roles to play.”
“Yet, you won’t tell me what your role is. . .”
Samantha just smiled at Lucas before she turned her attention back to the four figures.
“What are they doing?”
Lucas eyed the girl warily for a moment before he followed her stare with a sigh.
“They’re summoning Resin.” Lucas said sadly.
“Oh no,” Samantha said in horror.
“I know,” Lucas stated. “There’s only one thing I can do now. . .”
“No, Lucas!” Samantha pleaded with the boy as she saw him bow his head to pray. “It doesn’t have to be this way!”
“Yes, it does, my beloved.” Lucas responded sadly as he gazed into Samantha’s bright blue eyes one last time. “I’ll never forget you, Samantha.”
“Will he be strong enough?” Samantha asked as a tear fell from the corner of her eye.
“Ask him yourself,” Lucas said as he motioned to where I stood with my heart beating rapidly in my chest.
“He doesn’t look like he’s ready, Lucas.”
“He will be ready, Samantha.” Lucas said quietly. “I’ll make sure of it.”
“The cycle is never going to end if he isn’t ready, Lucas.” The girl said worriedly.
“It’s going to be alright, Samantha.” Lucas said softly. “Please, trust me on this.”
The boy looked at me for a moment before he kissed Samantha on her cheek.
“Don’t let my sacrifice be in vain, Chosen One!” The boy told me as he stepped out from behind the wagon and walked towards the hooded figures.
“Good luck, Elijah.” Samantha told me softly before I felt the entire world twist around me again.
The next thing I knew, I was standing in the center of an amusement park. I stumbled forward at the sudden change until I managed to sit down on a nearby bench.
“What the fuck is going on?” I muttered as the sharp sounds of the rides and music contrasted with the sounds of people screaming in terror from the dream I had just left behind. The park felt just as real as the boy and girl. The different scents were making my mouth water, and I could hear the excited chatter of conversation as people passed me by without a second glance. I stood slowly to my feet, and went to take a step forward, only to find myself suddenly standing beside Brayden, Anisa, and Corban. I stared at them as I waited for them to notice me, but they never said anything to me.
“I wish Elijah could have made it, Brayden.” Anisa said as Corban slipped his arms around the slender girl’s waist.
“Me too,” Brayden said with a distant look in his eye. “I feel weird without him being here.”
I reached out to console my best friend and gasped slightly when my hand passed right through his body. Brayden turned around suddenly and looked directly at me with a look of curiosity in his expression.
“What’s wrong, Brayden?” Anisa asked as she too tried to see what Brayden was looking at. All I could do was hold my breath and wait for my presence to be discovered.
“Nothing, I think.” Brayden said with one last glance at the spot where I was standing before he turned his attention back to the line in front of them. He forced himself to smile widely. “I think I’m just nervous about riding the coaster.”
“Chicken shit!” Corban teased my friend with a playful smile.
“I’ll show you who’s a chicken shit!” Brayden said with a wide grin before he lunged towards Corban and put him in a headlock.
Then, the world shifted around me again, and I found myself standing near the school as a man dressed all in black stumbled through the shadows until he could see the distant brick building. He held his hands out towards it for a moment before he pulled the hood back of the dark robes he wore revealing the saggy pasty white skin beneath. The man’s eyes were black, and there was no hair anywhere on his face or head. The loose skin around his throat wobbled with each breath the strange man took, and he had a foul stench about him that made my stomach turn. He held his hands out towards the building again.
“Reveal yourself,” the man muttered harshly. Then, I felt the ground heave slightly beneath my feet before I was slammed downwards against the ground. The man scowled but continued to focus on the high school building. “I know you’re in there. . .”
The ground began shaking more violently, and I looked at the man to see that his entire body was shaking along with it. Then, the entire ground heaved upwards as if it was trying to spit something up. Each shockwave caused more of the school to crumble, and I watched in horror as the building slowly started to come down. The ground suddenly heaved upwards in a tremor that knocked me to the ground before it fell back down revealing a massive crater that school building was falling into.
“You can stop this, Elijah.”
I turned to my side to see the strange girl standing there again. Her eyes were white, and she appeared to be floating slightly above the ground.
“What do you mean?” I asked in mute horror as the ground continued to tremble and quake. “How can I stop something that’s already happening?”
“This is nothing but a vision, Elijah.” The girl said plainly. “You must save the Healer!”
Then, the girl touched my forehead, and I found myself standing back at the amusement park. Brayden, Anisa, and Corban were at the front of the line and were getting ready to board the next coaster train that rolled into the station. I felt a slight tremor in the ground beneath me, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as when I was next to the school. I saw the train pull into the station, and the people getting off of it were letting off shouts of joy that echoed off of the walls around me. Brayden and my friends climbed onto the now empty train and the technician checked all of their restraints before the ride left from the station again. I felt another tremor race through the ground as the train climbed the first hill. I could hear the excited conversation from the people on the ride as it slowly started to crest the lift hill. The clanking of the chain faded into oblivion as the sounds of the wheels screaming along the track filled my ears. The train was already racing down the first drop as I felt another tremor shake the ground. People gathered nearby began to look around in confusion until the ground shook again. This time, multiple people fell as the earth dropped out from beneath us before rising back up suddenly. I heard the coaster track groan and twist as the shockwave hit the ride. I glanced up in time to see the coaster train hit the bottom of the first loop just as another tremor shook the ground. I tried to scream as I watched the loop sway from the earthquake, but nobody heard me over the sounds of screeching metal. The train hit the top of the loop and squealed to a halt halfway through the feature, with the train being stuck directly upside down. Another tremor drew the attention of everyone, and the panicking truly began.
The coaster train was still dangling precariously in the middle of the loop and I found Brayden quickly. His face was red, and he was gripping onto the seat restraints tightly. Then, I watched in horror as the entire train jerked and Brayden’s shoulder restraints came open. My best friend slipped out of the seat restraints and was barely able to keep himself from falling all of the way to the ground below.
“Help me!” Brayden screamed as he clung on to the restraint for dear life.
Anisa and Corban were trying to reach for Brayden, but their arms were not long enough. I glanced around me to see if there was anything I could use to save Brayden, but the peak of the loop was too high. Brayden’s cries of terror were breaking my heart as I watched him slowly start to lose his grip on the seat restraint. I screamed as he fell towards the track below. Just before he hit the track, I found myself sitting back in the now dark living room of my house with the strange girl’s words echoing through my head.
‘You must save the Healer!’
How though? How do I save someone that’s at an amusement park?
“Mom?” I cried out as I stood from the couch. I turned towards the kitchen doorway as my mother stood there with a worried look on her face. “Mom, it’s Brayden! I think he’s in trouble!”
“Elijah?” She took a step towards me. “What’s going on, baby boy?”
“There’s a man at the high school,” I tried telling her. “He’s going to do something to the school and make it fall down, and Brayden he’s-”
“Go, Elijah!” My mom said fiercely. “Just think clearly about where you want to be!”
I looked at her in confusion before the ground suddenly shook violently, and my body reacted before I could do anything else. The room pulled in and twisted around me before I was standing in the amusement park again.People were running in terror and everything was chaos. Fires were reaching into the air, and I heard several small explosions as the lights flickered off throughout the park. The sounds of people screaming could be heard as one of the rides finally gave in to the heaving ground and collapsed in a blaze of sparks.
The ground shook again, and I saw that I was standing near the roller coaster. Brayden was dangling from the train until the next aftershock hit the ride, and my best friend lost his grip. Time seemed to slow down as Brayden fell towards the track below. I had to save him!
I ran towards the ride as fast as I could only to suddenly find myself standing next to the loop. I knew that I couldn’t catch him from that high of a fall without injuring both of us. Brayden was still falling in slow motion towards the track below and I was running out of time. I thought about what my mother had told me. All I needed to do was focus on being where Brayden was.
As I screamed his name, I felt the entire world pull in around me again, and I was suddenly right in front of Brayden, just as high in the air as he was, and we were both falling. I wrapped my arms around him and tried to think of somewhere safe that we could land where we wouldn’t get hurt. I thought about my bed, but the speed of our fall would still be too much, so I focused on the pool in my backyard. The next thing I knew, the sights and sounds of the amusement park were gone, and Brayden and I were free-falling into the pool. Brayden cried out as we both hit the water and sank straight to the bottom. My back stung from the impact with the pool, but Brayden was grabbing my hand and pulling me towards the surface of the water. My best friend made sure I was clinging to the side wall of the pool before he grabbed the edge and tried to catch his breath.
“What the fuck just happened?” Brayden asked himself quietly. “This can’t be fucking real!”
As he tried to process what just occurred, I pulled myself out of the pool and flopped onto my back in the yard. The stars filled the night sky, and I couldn’t help but watch as the vast multitude of lights seemed to flicker.
‘What just happened?’ I asked myself as I laid there on the ground.
I jumped at the sound of Brayden’s voice, and sat up to see him looking at me with a mix of fear and adoration in his brown eyes as he still clung to the pool. I stood and reached over to help him from the pool. Brayden looked at the hand hesitantly before he finally reached out and let me help him. I couldn’t help but gasp as Brayden fell into my arms the moment he was out of the water. His entire body was trembling as he began to sob uncontrollably. We both sank down to the ground together as I tried to comfort my best friend while trying to figure out what was going on.
“Brayden,” I asked with a shaky voice. “Are you okay?”
Brayden immediately pulled back away from me for a moment as his brown eyes gazed at me. There was confusion evident in his expression before he suddenly pushed his lips against my own. My entire being shivered as the one thing I had always wanted finally happened. It wasn’t meant to last, though. Brayden almost immediately pulled back again and went to turn away from me.
“Sorry,” he mumbled under his breath. “I don’t know what. . .”
I quickly grabbed his hand to keep my best friend from walking away from me.
“Don’t go,” I said so quietly that I wasn’t sure if he heard me. “Please?”
Brayden froze before he turned to look at me with fear in his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Eli.” He said. I could tell that he was fighting the urge to cry, and I had no idea how I would be able to make him stop. “I shouldn’t have done that.”
I stopped him the only way I could come up with. I pressed my lips against Brayden’s as he let out a tiny gasp. His trembling slowed before he pulled back and smiled at me. I bit my lower lip shyly as I waited for him to react.
“You saved my life, Eli.” He said with disbelief in his voice. “How? You weren’t even at the park. . .”
“I don’t know,” I replied softly. I could feel myself beginning to blush and went to turn away, but it was Brayden’s turn to stop me.
“I’m not mad, Eli.” Brayden told me gently. “I’m not even scared anymore. I just. . .”
Brayden froze as he seemed to search for the right word.
“You’re confused,” I said meekly. Something told me that I shouldn’t have kissed him. I shouldn’t show him any affection, but my heart needed to show him. I needed to tell him. “I love you, Brayden.”
My best friend looked at me curiously for a moment before he said anything.
“I love you too, Elijah.” Brayden told me with a brief smile. “More than you could ever imagine.”
I couldn’t stop myself from rushing forward to kiss him. I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him against me, not even caring that we were still soaking wet. It was only the sound of my Aunt Madison clearing her throat that made us jump apart. I glanced at the older woman sheepishly as Brayden was trying desperately to be invisible.
“I was wondering what it was going to take for you two to finally admit your feelings for each other,” the gray-haired woman told me with a smug grin. “Stop trying to disappear, Brayden. It’s not a big deal in this family. Now, let’s get you both some towels, there’s a few things we need to discuss.”
“You’ve known?” I asked Aunt Madison softly
“Since you were both little boys, Elijah.” She said with a grin. “Let’s go before you get sick again, Elijah. We obviously have much to discuss and time is getting short.”
“You’re finally going to give me answers?”
“You’re going to learn everything, Elijah.” Aunt Mattie told me with a firm nod.
“No more secrets?” I asked hesitantly.
“We never wanted to keep you in the dark, my dear nephew.” She said as Brayden and I stepped over towards the patio. “It had to be this way, Elijah.”
I watched as she turned and went in through the patio doors before Brayden slipped his hand into my own.
“Should we do this together?” He asked as we both looked at the back door.
“Yeah,” I said nervously. “At least we won’t be completely outnumbered.”
“You say that now, but I’m pretty sure my mom is here, too.”
“Great,” I muttered. “I wonder what part you’re going to play, Brayden.”
He tensed for a moment and his eyes seemed to go distant.
“Brayden?” I squeezed his hand nervously. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he said nervously. “I think so. There’s just so much that never made sense before. I mean, I have no idea what happened, Elijah. One moment, I was falling to my death; and the next, you had your arms wrapped around me and we landed in your swimming pool.”
Brayden suddenly looked at me with fierce adoration in his eyes. Then, he kissed me again and I felt my knees go weak.
“I owe you my life, Elijah.” My best friend said as he pulled away from me. “Something tells me that this isn’t the first time you’ve done it, though.”
“What do you mean?”
Brayden turned his attention to the patio doors.
“Something seems familiar about all of this, Elijah.” He said with a frown. “It gives me a headache to think about it. . .”
“Let’s go get our answers, Brayden.” I said, interrupting him.
Brayden glanced at me and nodded his head before he squeezed my hand.
“Together,” I said with a shy smile.