Riley Smith reached out for his backpack as he made his way towards the front door of his group home. He was tired from studying for his final exams for the summer, but the fifteen-year-old was happy that it would finally be over for the year. Riley was also tired due to the lack of sleep he had been getting recently. The lack of sleep that was caused by the reoccurring nightmare that had been haunting his dreams for nearly a week.
It always started the same.
He saw a black-haired teen walking through the church sanctuary, only to have the church collapse in flames around him. Then, Riley always found himself standing in the middle of a dark alleyway with a group of boys standing across from him. They were clearly older than Riley, and the one in front had a gun pointed directly at his face. A woman with white eyes would then appear, telling Riley to seek out the boy that saves his life. Riley always begged the woman to tell him more, but she never said anything else. All he knew was that her voice seemed familiar to him, and it was always the same words in every dream.
“Find the boy that saves you from the end,” she always said eerily. “He will guide you to your other half.”
Then, the boy from the church would appear and touch Riley just as the other guy fired the gun.
Riley would usually wake up at that point, soaked in sweat and being stared at by his foster brother.
“Don’t worry about it, Ayden,” Riley usually told the other boy, before he would fight to go back to sleep, his mind full of questions. What the fuck is wrong with me?
Then, Riley would spend the remainder of his nights, tossing and turning as he struggled to make his mind rest.
“You’re studying too much, Riley,” his foster-mom told him as he passed by her on the way out of the house. “It’ll be good for you to finally get a chance to rest. Good luck, today, but I don’t think you need it. You’ve got this.”
“Thanks, Shelly,” the boy said before he left for his last day of school.
Riley kept from telling the woman that the real reason he was studying so much, was just so he would be too exhausted to dream when he finally passed out. That didn’t matter to the nightmares, though. They still appeared in full force, every time. Riley could only assume that he wouldn’t get relief until he managed to find a way to locate the mysterious boy so they could meet.
Riley sighed and kept his head down as he navigated the familiar sidewalks that led towards the high school. He was only a block or two away when the blond heard the sound of someone shouting his name.
Not, today, the teen thought bitterly as he tried to ignore the voice. I don’t need this, today.
“You better stop, Riley,” the voice demanded. Riley stopped and turned around to wait as Carlos and his thugs decided to give him a tough time. “I knew you would listen, Riley.”
Riley knew better than to say anything as the older teen stopped in front of him. This wasn’t Riley’s first encounter with the street gang. Carlos made it a point to harass Riley on a daily basis, something that had started when Riley was first assigned to his current group home. Carlos and his cronies were only one of the reasons that Riley wanted to get away from New York. Now, all Riley could do, was wait until Carlos and his gang were finished with him.
“So, Riley,” Carlos’s tone seemed friendly, but Riley could see the steely glint in the young man’s brown eyes. “Have you given any thought to my offer?”
“I’ve been thinking about it, Carlos,” Riley replied easily. It was true after all. He had been considering the idea of joining Carlos’s gang, but he had not made his decision, yet. Riley knew deep in his heart, that he would never join a gang for any reason, but he also knew that if he refused Carlos, Riley would have a mark placed on his head by the gang leader. Then, Riley wouldn’t have any options left. He’d only be able to run if Carlos decided to come after him.
“Don’t worry, Riley,” Carlos said with a smug grin before he patted Riley’s cheek hard. “I’ll give you until tonight to come to the right decision, Riley. If you don’t, well then, I can’t be held responsible for what happens to you. Understand?”
“Yes,” Riley replied, not turning away from the young man. Carlos patted his cheek again before he slapped the boy across the face. Tears sprung to Riley’s eyes immediately, the fire burning across his face. Then, to make Riley’s humiliation complete, Carlos purposely led his lackeys past Riley, each one bumping into the boy. Riley waited until they were out of sight before he finally continued on to the school with tears falling from his eyes.
I couldn’t move. The dream had relented long enough for me to catch my breath, long enough for me to know that it wasn’t over by any means. The morning sun was beginning to shine in through my bedroom windows, its golden glow casting yellow beams of light across the room around me. I wanted to climb out of my bed, but my body was frozen. I tried screaming out for my mother or Aunt Madison, only to notice that the only control I had over my body was my own thoughts, and even those were on the brink of being taken over by the next dream. I had no idea why it was happening, but everything about it felt so. . . real. I had even felt it when Riley had been punched in the lip by the Carlos guy.
I tried to formulate my thoughts, hoping it would keep me from being yanked into another dream about Riley, but that was clearly a losing battle as the edges of my vision flickered just before I was pulled under.
Help me, mom!
Riley looked at the red mark on his cheek in the bathroom mirror, the result of his encounter with Carlos and his gang of miscreants. Riley would refuse to join them, no matter what. He wanted to do something with his life, not get stuck living in the ghetto of New York City.
I won’t be like them, he thought determinedly before he went to take his first test of the day. I will get the fuck out of here! No matter what!
Riley reported to the gym, as the note on his homeroom door said to do. His teacher gave him a look of concern before he handed the teenager the test packet.
“Do not open the packet, until you are instructed to do so, Mr. Smith,” Riley’s Science Teacher warned. “You are in seat C-7. Good luck, Riley.”
“Thank you, sir,” Riley said with a shy grin before he took his assigned seat.
The boy’s stomach turned in knots as he watched the gym slowly fill up with other students. Once most of the seats were filled, one of the teachers gave the green light for the students to begin taking the test. Riley immediately set to work, skipping the questions he couldn’t figure out right away, and returning to them after he finished his first pass through. Then, Riley sat and worked through the problems that he didn’t know, right off hand, and soon found himself sitting there with a completed test in front of him. He sat there dumbfounded, for a moment, before Riley decided to go back through the test to make certain that he was happy with all of his answers. He didn’t even realize he was the last person sitting in the gymnasium until Mr. Richards told Riley that time was up.
“Oh, sorry,” Riley said sheepishly as the teacher took the completed test from him. “I didn’t realize everybody else had left, already.”
“It’s fine, Riley,” Mr. Richards responded in an uninterested tone. “You’re permitted the full time to utilize completing your test. I just wasn’t expecting you to be the last one.”
“I finished a long time ago, actually, Mr. Richards.” Riley shrugged as he gathered his belongings and stood from the desk. “I just wanted to make sure that I had done it right. I would have felt like an idiot if I had missed one of the easy questions.”
The teacher looked through the exam booklet for a moment with a surprised grin on his face. “I’m certain that you did an excellent job, Riley. I’ll make sure the grades are posted by Friday.”
“Thank you, Mr. Richards,” Riley said before he turned to leave. “Enjoy your summer, sir.”
Riley couldn’t help but smile as he threw his backpack over his shoulder and stepped out into the afternoon sunlight. The teen glanced at his watch and considered if he had time to stop by the Home to drop off his backpack. Riley frowned when he realized he was running out of time to get to work. His boss, David Ramsey, wouldn’t give him any problems for being late, but Riley felt that it set a bad precedence. Besides, if the teenager went straight to work, he wouldn’t have to worry about dealing with Carlos.
I gasped out for air as the strange dream released its grip on me. It was early afternoon, and the light shining in my window seemed to move by quickly. I still couldn’t move, frozen as I lay on my back, wondering why I was being shown the vision that I was. The teenager seemed normal to me, yet I felt like I knew everything about him. There was a connection existing between us. A thread of energy, crossing the distance until it finally, made it to New York City. Riley was clearly important in some way, even if I didn’t know what it was, yet. It was pointless to struggle as I felt the world tilt around me, and the edges of my vision seemed to fade back into the dream.
“Oh, honey,” the gray-haired woman spoke with concern in her voice as she stood at Riley’s register. Riley paused in dragging the woman’s few items across the scanner and smiled at her in confusion.
“Your cheek, honey,” the woman said with a soft smile, her blue eyes were focused on Riley. “It looks like you got in a fight. I hope you gave them what they deserve, honey.”
Riley smiled, “Thanks, ma’am.” Riley quickly resumed scanning the elderly woman’s groceries. He read off her total to the woman before Riley moved to bag her stuff. “Paper or plastic, ma’am?” He asked with a polite smile, hoping she wouldn’t mention the mark on his cheek, anymore. The owner of the store had already checked on the teenager multiple times, and Riley was certain he was going to snap if the Italian man asked him what had happened, one more time.
“Plastic will be fine, dear,” the little-old woman replied as she slid her card into the reader to pay for her groceries. Riley made quick work of bagging the woman’s groceries and set the plastic bags into her cart.
“Here’s your receipt, ma’am,” Riley said as he handed the woman her receipt. “Have a great night.”
“Thank you, dear,” the woman smiled as she pushed her cart towards the door.
Riley nearly breathed a sigh of relief as he moved on to the next person in line. Grateful for the distraction, Riley let his mind focus on work, refusing to even think about the man named Carlos. Riley’s cheek still stung, and he was going to have to figure out a way to explain it to his foster-mom. There would be no way in Hell, that Shelly would let a mark like the one he was sporting, pass by her without notice. Shelly didn’t hover over Ayden and Riley, she just made sure that they were taken care of.
Riley’s shift passed faster than the teen expected, and he soon found himself in the backroom, grabbing his jacket and backpack, so he could head back home. Night had fallen when Riley made it out to the parking lot, and the teenager decided to head home as fast as he could, hoping that he wouldn’t run into Carlos and his gang.
Riley’s relief was short-lived, however, when he heard the familiar sneer of the Mexican’s voice coming from behind him when the teenager stepped out of an alley that he always used. Riley felt his stomach drop when Carlos said his name, his future forever being held in the hands of some miscreant that thought he was a bad ass, when all he really was, was a blow hard loser.
“Hello, Riley,” Carlos smiled, trying to put a false facade, but Riley knew what type of person the man really was. The rest of Carlos’s gang were the real threat. They would do whatever the man wanted, without question. How the Mexican had managed to gain that kind of loyalty, Riley had no idea. He just knew the men that stood with Carlos would die for him. “Have you given any more thought to my offer? I feel like I’ve been more than generous with the amount of time that I’ve given you to consider the proposal. Now, I want an answer.”
“What happens if I say no?” Riley asked nervously as Carlos’s gang started to crowd around him.
“What happens if you say no to my generous offer?” Carlos repeated Riley’s question before he started laughing obnoxiously. Then, one of Carlos’s goons punched Riley in the stomach. Riley instantly, cried out and doubled over in pain as he clutched his stomach. “You’re missing out, Riley. I could have given you protection, freedom, the security of a family. You know, the things you’ve always wanted? But you’ve decided to refuse my offer. . .”
“But. . .” Riley tried to say before someone slapped him hard across the face, forcing the boy into silence. Carlos glared at him for a moment before he finally continued.
“I can see it in your eyes, Riley,” Carlos told him. “I’ve been around long enough, to know what true loyalty looks like, and you, my dear friend, do not feel loyalty towards me.” Carlos’s brow narrowed. “I can tell that you fear me, Riley, and fear makes people do crazy things, sometimes.” The gangster glanced at his companions. “Do you guys remember Tyler?” The laughter that the gang members responded with sent a chill down Riley’s spine. Carlos grinned smugly at the teenager in front of him. “Tyler was afraid of me too, Riley. Just like you are. He was so afraid of me, that he went to the cops and tried to nark on me and my boys here, for something we didn’t even do, allegedly.”
Riley felt his stomach drop as the gangsters all started laughing again. He didn’t like where this was going. The voice in the back of Riley’s head was telling him to run, to get away from the dangerous situation before it got even worse. Riley sent a mental “goodbye” to Shelly and to his roommate Ayden. Those were the only two people that would miss him. Riley didn’t have anybody else. Satisfied that he had done everything he could to live a decent life, the teenager began to make a plan in his head. He doubted that it would work, but it wouldn’t matter if he didn’t try. Carlos was still dragging on about loyalty and how his people were always loyal to him.
“Aren’t you in your twenties, Carlos?” Riley suddenly asked, making the man look at him in annoyance for the interruption. One of the other men was about to strike Riley but Carlos held up his hand to stop them.
“Does it matter?” Carlos asked with a grin.
Riley knew he was playing with fire, but he didn’t care anymore. He needed this to end. “It could to that cop over there. . .”
The moment Carlos turned his head away, Riley stomped on the foot of the man that was holding him before he darted down the dimly lit alley.
“Get him!” Riley heard Carlos shout from behind him, only making the teenager try to run faster. “Don’t let him get away!”
The sounds of running coming from behind the teenager only pushed him to run faster, but he could hear his pursuers gaining on him. The end of the alley was in Riley’s sight. He could see cars passing by on the road ahead, and he would have been safe if one of Carlos’s gang members hadn’t been able to grab the back of Riley’s shirt collar. Riley cried out as he was spun around and slammed into a brick wall, a sharp flash of pain was sent searing through his skull as Riley’s head hit the bricks. Then, there was the barrel of a gun being jammed into the bottom of Riley’s chin as someone pinned the teenager against the wall.
“Bravo, Riley!” Carlos chuckled as he approached, clapping softly. Riley felt his body trembling as the man stood across from him. “That was very entertaining!”
The man laughed darkly as the other men let go of Riley and stepped away. Then, Riley was swept over with a feeling of deja vu as he gazed over the group.
It’s my dream, he thought bitterly. This is my end.
“You had so much potential, Riley,” Carlos said then, pulling a gun out of the back of his pants. Riley knew he wouldn’t be able to run, again. Carlos had already taken care of that by having his other guys show their guns. Carlos was going to kill him. “Such a fucking waste, really.”
Riley felt a tingling sensation in the back of his mind as Carlos pointed his weapon towards the teenager. The boy’s heart was hammering in his chest and there was a distinctive ringing in Riley’s ears. The sensation in the back of Riley’s head was turning into a vibration that filled his entire body, crawling over his skin like thousands of bugs. Then, just as Carlos pulled the trigger on his gun, a boy with piercing blue eyes and jet-black hair, appeared next to Riley. The boy reached out and touched the teenager’s shoulder before Riley felt the energy inside of his body suddenly explode outwards. Everything went into slow motion for the teenager as he saw a wall of pure energy shoot out in front of him, destroying everything that it touched. The gun seemed to turn to dust, as did the person firing the weapon as the light swept over him. Every other person turned into dust, as well, except for Riley and the boy touching his shoulder.
Then, the wave of energy swept back into Riley’s body as the dark-haired teenager vanished, and Riley fainted from exhaustion.
I saw Riley running from the gang members and I knew I had to save him. I had saved Brayden from falling to his death, why couldn’t I save Riley? He didn’t deserve to die because some asshole was upset that Riley didn’t join his gang. I fought against the binds holding me in the dream as Riley was caught by the group of men. I felt my muscles twitching as I struggled to save the teenager. What was the point of being powerful if I couldn’t even save one person?
Then, the leader of the gang pulled out a gun and pointed it at Riley. That’s when my powers finally worked, and I was able to cross the distance to save the life of somebody else.
I appeared in the alley just as I heard the report of the gun being fired. Everything slowed down around us as I reached out and touched the boy’s shoulder, meaning to teleport him away from the danger but fate had another plan. A wall of energy erupted from Riley’s body and dissolved each of the gang members as it swept over their bodies.
The next thing I knew, I was standing in the center of my bedroom, but Riley wasn’t with me. I felt my heart drop as I realized that my abilities had failed before I sat down on the edge of my bed. Then, there was a soft knock on the door before my mother stepped into my room.
“Did you save him?” She asked with a concerned look as my mother sat down next to me.
“What?” I looked at her in confusion. “How did you know? I mean. . .”
My mother put her arm around me and held me as I cried. “It’s going to be alright, Elijah. You saved Riley, just like you were supposed to do.”
“He should be here with me, though,” I stated. “That’s what I was trying to do, mom.”
“The Shield has to find his own way to you, my son,” my mother explained, only adding to my confusion. “You have to trust me on this one. Please?”
“If you say so,” I said meekly. “Is Riley really okay, though?”
“Yes, Elijah,” she replied reassuringly. “Riley Smith is safe, all because of you helping him awaken his own abilities. Now, it’s up to him to follow the path that you have placed for him to follow.”
“How did I leave a path?”
“You shared your power with him, Elijah,” my mother explained with a brief smile. “It’s as simple as that. You were able to connect to him, and to help Riley release the power that was struggling to break free from his body. Now, both of you will always know what the other is feeling or doing as your bond continues to grow. All Riley has to do is follow the bond and it will bring him straight to you. Okay?”
“I think so,” I said, trying to sort out everything my mother had told me. Riley and I were connected, now. A connection that I had caused by helping Riley release his powers. I closed my eyes for a moment, and realized that I could feel someone else, a thread that hadn’t been there before. Riley was still alive and wasn’t in any danger. Riley was safe. I hugged my mother back. “Thanks, mom.”
“I didn’t do anything, Elijah,” she told me with a grin. “You’re the one that keeps saving lives.”
I blushed at her words, but they were true. Two people were alive because of my actions. How many other people could say that they had saved somebody’s life?