“This isn’t possible!” A boy they were calling Alexander blurted out. Arys just gave him a look that made the other boy fall silent.
‘What the fuck is going on? You’ve done lost your fucking mind, Zyan!’ I scolded myself in disbelief. ‘This can’t be Arys. . .’
“It is him, Zyan,” a tiny blond-haired boy said as he stepped up beside Alexander. My eyes fell on the hazel-eyed boy, and I instinctively cocked my head to the side at him. The boy smiled at me. “You’re not crazy, either.”
“So, you can hear my thoughts?” I asked him bluntly.
The boy nodded and held his hand out to me in a friendly gesture. “I’m Isaac,” the boy proclaimed proudly. “I’m the Assistant Director for the Ohio Valley Division of Clan Short of Vulcan.”
“I’m sorry, but you completely lost me,” I told the boy.
“You’ll get used to him, Zyan,” Alexander said with his own grin. Then, he took Isaac’s hand in his own and started to pull the younger boy away from me. “Come on, Isaac. I’m sure you have better things to do than bother the new people. Besides, I think Harris wants to talk to our new friend privately.”
“So,” I jumped at the sound of Arys’ voice from behind me and turned to find the younger-looking boy suddenly hugging me. “Zyan, huh? That’s what your name really is?”
“Yeah,” I whispered. “Your real name is Harris?”
“Yeah,” Harris responded with a slight laugh. Then, Harris led me back towards a hallway that ran between six elevators. “Harris Michael Conner.” Arys’ green eyes went distant as he kept taking side-glances at me. “You’ve grown. . .”
“Why haven’t you, Arys?” I asked as we passed by the elevators, barely noticing that the lobby around us had grown quiet. “It’s been two years, Arys. Where have you been?”
I heard Arys’ sharp intake of breath. “Two years?”
“Yeah,” I told him quietly. “Two years.”
“I’m sorry,” Arys whispered, slipping his hand into my own as we walked with each other. “I tried to stay. I wanted to stay.”
“No,” I corrected him sharply. “Don’t ever say that you wanted to stay with the fucking Monster. I hope he rots in fucking Hell for what he did to me. . .”
“He hurt me, too, Zac. . .” Arys cut himself off as he shook his head. “Sorry, Zyan.”
“He tried to murder me, Arys,” I told my foster brother with a frown. “I’m pretty sure that I was dead for a while.”
“What did he do to you, Zyan?” I couldn’t bring myself to answer though, and just remained quiet. How do you tell your own brother the dark things your former caretaker did to you? “Sorry, Zyan,” Harris quickly apologized. “I shouldn’t have asked.”
“Just trust me,” I told him as I fought the urge to cry. “It was bad.”
“Come on,” Harris motioned towards a set of glass doors. “Through here.”
“Lead the way,” I said with a nod.
Harris grabbed my hand and pulled me along as the wide hallway took a sharp turn to the left before curving back out to the right. We passed another set of elevator doors before Harris motioned towards a small shop on our left.
“That’s where we’re going to have the supply store for everybody who lives here,” Harris stated, noticing my confused glance.
“What is this place, Harris?”
“It’s a safe place for children, Zyan. A place where a child doesn’t have to fear anyone! Our demons can’t reach us here.”
Then, my demon stepped out from another door on the left with a wide grin on his face. “Foul play,” I uttered in disbelief as Harris ran up to the Monster and embraced him. I couldn’t stop myself from screaming out in terror at the boy that I had thought was my friend. “It’s a fucking trick! This entire time! I fucking knew you would deliver me right to the fucking Monster!”
Then, I turned to run, knocking several people over that had been following us. I felt a set of arms grab onto me, but I fought and squirmed until I managed to break from their grasp.
‘You’re a fucking liar, Harris Michael Conner!’ I screamed out with my thoughts, hoping the boy from earlier would relay the hate-filled message. ‘I’ll never fucking trust you again!’
I couldn’t stop running. The feelings of betrayal and fear were too strong to keep my feet from moving in the opposite direction of the presumed danger. My heart was racing, and tears were pouring from my eyes. I needed to find my cousin so I could take him back home. He wouldn’t be safe around Harris or the Monster, as far as I was concerned. Neither of us were safe here.
I felt something seem to push against my mind, so I pushed back with as much force as I could muster and a scream that would wake the dead. ‘STAY OUTTA’ MY HEAD!’
The pushing stopped quickly, and I felt a small wave of pain come back with it. For a moment, I felt sorry for what I did, but I shrugged it off as I continued to run. I wasn’t going to let myself become another victim for that fucking maniac. Fuck Harold Stubbs!
Only a stitch in my side made me slow to a walk, and I finally took the time to see where I was at. Buildings lined the street I was walking down. I didn’t even remembering slipping out through any of the doors where Arys was. ‘Did I travel somewhere else?’ I thought curiously as I wiped the tears from my eyes, glancing around to see that I was standing in front of a small convenience store. I stepped into the shop and pulled my wallet out of my pocket to make sure that I still had some of the cash on me that my dad had given me. The inside of the shop was quiet, with some strawberry-blond-haired kid shuffling through magazines while a green-eyed man was in the process of going through a few boxes of what looked to be stock for the shelves. I quickly found the snacks and proceeded to grab myself a bottle of water before I made my way to the register.
“I’ll be right with you, young man!” The man stocking the shelves said pleasantly.
“No worries,” I responded, trying to keep the emotion out of my voice as I fiddled with the twenty-dollar bill in my hand. I tried not thinking about Arys to no avail. All I could see was his smiling face as the Monster greeted the both of us and Arys had hugged the man tightly. ‘Arys would have never hugged that man!’ I thought bitterly. ‘Fuck everyone here!’
I felt my anger beginning to boil over as I thought about how happy Arys had looked with the Monster. Then, the Monster’s voice popped into my head from a dream I had where the Monster was chasing Arys down the dark alleyway.
“Time’s up, Arys,” the man had said with a sneer as he turned the boy to face him. Then, Harold pinned the boy against the door by his throat, making Arys gasp for air. “It’s a shame that you couldn’t stick around like a good kid and help me break in the new boy.”
Arys cried out as Harold slapped the boy harshly with his free hand.
“It would have taken the focus off of you if you would have helped me, Arys,” Harold continued before he slapped the boy again. “Pity. I really liked you, Arys. We were finally beginning to understand each other. Too bad it was all an act.”
Harold punched Arys hard in the stomach, making the boy double over as he gasped for air.
“I wish it would have worked out, Arys,” Harold said as he punched the boy again, knocking Arys into the door behind him. Harold grabbed the boy’s shirt and pulled him close as the man glared at the boy. “But I can’t let you return to the house. It would set a bad example for little Zachary Brody. He’s going to be fun to torture, Arys.” Harold suddenly smacked the boy angrily. “All you had to do was behave, Arys! I would have given you everything if you had helped me groom Zach. Shame that I’m going to have to break him in on my own, though.”
‘Is that what happened in this universe?’ I asked myself. ‘Did Arys take the Monster’s deal? Is that why they’re getting along, so well?’
“You’re a little young to have so much on your mind, young man,” the man behind the counter stated – snapping me from my daydream.
“Oh – um – sorry,” I blushed, not realizing that I had spaced out, so bad. I handed the man my money and he sort of hesitated for a moment before sticking it in his register and giving me some change. “Thanks.”
“Not a problem, young man,” the brown-haired man said with a wide smile. “Do you want to talk about whatever is bothering you?”
“I’m- I’m okay, I think,” I mumbled.
“You don’t seem too sure about that,” the man behind the counter chuckled. “If you ever want to talk, I’m either here, or over at the new Clan Short Headquarters.”
“Oh,” I said absently, taking a small step away from the counter. The man looked at me in confusion, as my fear of the Monster began to overwhelm me, again. I tried to play it off as I took another step backwards. “I, uh, know that place. Yeah.”
My body was trembling as I continued to take another step backwards, until I bumped into somebody else. The boy had emerald-green eyes that seemed to flicker in the light and a smile that I would never be able to forget.
“Davie?” I asked nervously, the shaking in my voice was evident.
“It’s me, Zyan,” the boy answered as he hugged me tightly. “Why are you so scared, little one? You have nothing to fear here. . .”
“It’s him, Davie!” I gasped as a strange song seemed to echo throughout my mind. “The Monster is here! He’s. . . He’s got Arys!”
“The Monster?” The man behind the counter asked. “Wait. . . Is this Harris’s. . .?”
“He is, Charles,” Davie replied, not releasing me from his embrace. I couldn’t stop the tears from falling as I thought about how my friend had been duped by the man that had tormented both of us. Davie held me tightly through all of it. “This is Zyan Montgomery. Harris’s foster brother.”
“I thought his name was Zach?” The man asked, his voice filled with confusion. Then, the man began to laugh. “To think, that’s two boys now that Harold has to impress. Oh, shit,” the man named Charles suddenly fell silent. “He’s going to have to suffer through Vanek’s cooking.”
“It’s a long story, Charles,” Davie giggled with his own bell-like voice. I couldn’t help but to relax slightly in his loving embrace. The song continued to fill my mind, helping feel even more at ease. It was almost like a chorus of angels were singing to me and I found myself reaching out towards them.
“Let go of him, Davie,” a woman’s voice said from beside us. I felt Davie glance over at the woman, but he refused to release his hold on me. “It’s important.”
“He needs my help, Davie,” the woman responded in a kind tone. “It’s the only way to heal him the rest of the way. Why else would he be here before his job is done?”
Davie hesitated before I felt him nod and his grip on my body loosened. The song faded as quickly as it had come, and I felt an emptiness filling the place the music had once occupied. Then, there was a light touch on my shoulder, and I began to tremble, again. The woman moved around until she was kneeling in front of me with her arms open. Gold wings stood from her back and her smile was welcoming.
“Who are you?” I asked timidly.
“My name is Theresa, little one,” the woman replied warmly. “I am Harris’s mother. I’m here to help you understand everything that has happened to my son since you both have been apart.”
“I already know what happened, though,” I whimpered. “In this universe, Arys went along with the Monster’s plan. That’s why I’m not here. They killed me.”
I heard a gasp come from the man behind the counter and a small tear slid down the woman’s cheek. She reached forward and pulled me into her arms, taking the choice away from me. “While that has happened in another Universe, Zyan, it did not happen here,” Theresa tried to reassure me. “Relax and let me show you the truth.”
“How can I trust you if you’re with them, though?” It was stupid to ask, but I needed the woman to belay my fears.
“Do you believe that God would ever let me lie to you?”
“If the Timekeepers wanted him to do so, he would,” I told her bluntly.
The woman smiled patiently. “You have so much to learn before you can return here, Zyan,” Theresa said. “Please, let me show you the truth about my son and his father.”
Theresa nodded and put her hand to my cheek.
“Just watch, Zyan. . .”
All I could do was watch as Theresa took me through images of Arys’ past life. I saw how he wound up in the wrong timeline. I watched in horror as the Monster abused him; feeling every strike of the man’s hand as if it was on me. Then, I watched again, as Arys ran down that dark alleyway trying to get away from the man that had made our lives miserable. The man that had broken us down to nothing. Arys was able to get away, though. He had escaped.
‘At least, he didn’t have to die to get away,’ I thought as I heard the man’s angry muttering when he was finally able to break into the garage, only to come out empty handed.
Then, I was surrounded by daylight as Arys stumbled out into the middle of downtown Springfield. The boy blinked in confusion as he bumped into a man that pushed him into another man that had a green hue to his skin and pointy ears. The man with the pointy ears followed Arys for a moment until the boy huddled with his knees to his chest against a wall.
“Are you alright, child?” The man with the strange skin asked. I saw Arys respond before the started reaching for his pocket. “Do you need medical or police assistance?” The man asked in a neutral tone as if he didn’t feel any emotion. Though, there was a look of worry in his blue eyes as he looked after the fleeing boy.
The next thing I knew, I was following behind Arys as he held a few shopping bags in his hands and was walking down a sidewalk as lightning flashed overhead. The boy looked up at the sky with worry as it started to rain steadily. Arys’s gaze focused on something in front of him before he dropped the bags and took off running towards the crosswalk in front of him. I frowned in confusion until I saw Arys throw himself into the back of a man, pushing the man out of the way of an oncoming car, but not saving himself from the impending collision.
The left side of Arys’s body was struck before being flung into the windshield and flipping over the top of the car. Then, and only then, did the driver of the car slam on their brakes. I screamed as I watched him roll through the air before he slammed into the road with a sickening thud noise. Before I could stand another second, I was in a hospital room full of people. They were all standing around a boy that was lying in a strange looking bed as another boy, that only appeared to be slightly older than me, was diligently trying to save his life. A space broke open between the people, wide enough for me to see through, and my jaw dropped.
It was Arys. I looked up to see Theresa looking down at me.
“Does he live?” I couldn’t stop myself from asking.
Theresa smiled. “You already know the answer to that, Zyan,” she replied.
I blushed profusely, realizing how caught up in the memory I had become. “Sorry,” I mumbled in apology. “I couldn’t help myself.” I looked back over at Arys and how another little boy was screaming that he could save Arys. I couldn’t help but to cry along with the boy named Kyle as Davie put a stop to him using his powers. “Can we move on?”
“Look towards the door, Zyan,” the angel told me with her bell-like voice, “and watch, very closely.”
I jumped slightly when I saw that the Monster was standing there. The look of fear and love in his eyes as he watched them work on the boy in front of us was nothing like the look of loathing that the Monster from my universe always wore. This man looked like he had just found the lost love of his life. This man looked like his world was hanging on the very life of Arys. If Arys died, his father would lose his mind and never be able to recover. He didn’t even look like he believed what he was seeing with his own eyes. The man took a step forward and a tiny-blond haired boy appeared from thin air and put his hand in the middle of the man’s chest.
Angels were being revealed beside me and little boys were appearing and disappearing at their own whim, but my eyes were only focused on Harold as he watched the entire scene unfold. Harold’s eyes never strayed from the boy until Charles spoke to him, introducing Harold to his son. I turned to look up at Theresa for a moment and when I looked back, more scenes were flashing before my eyes.
When they finally faded away, I fell into Theresa’s arms and sobbed.
“But,” I whimpered. “He hurt us!”
“In your timeline, yes,” Theresa told me. “Here though, Harris has been reunited with his father, and their bond is repairing itself. They belong together here, Zyan.”
“I can see that,” I told her regretfully. “I need to get my cousin and go home, Theresa.”
“Almost, Zyan,” the angel told me. “There’s someone else that you need to talk to, child.”
“Is it him?”
“Yes,” Theresa replied with concern in her voice. “Will you be okay?”
“Are you going to stay here?”
“If I could, Zyan,” she said softly. “I swear on my wings though, that Harold would never harm you.”
“You died in my universe, too, Theresa,” I told her. “Or, that version of you did.”
“I know,” Theresa acknowledged. “I die in every universe. It’s one of those points that can never be changed.”
“No matter what?”
“No matter what, Zyan.”
“That’s mean, though.”
“Would you like to see what happens if I don’t die?”
“No,” I told her bluntly. “I’ve seen the other side of things before. I’m good. Watching myself getting eaten by a demon was scary enough, thanks.”
“Zyan, everything happens for a reason,” the dark-haired woman explained. “Harold may have become a bad man in your timeline, but that is only because the circumstances were different. He didn’t have Vanek to fall back on like he did here.”
“Oh,” I said quietly. “Okay.”
“Be strong, Zyan,” Theresa whispered as I felt her slowly beginning to vanish from my grip. “You were never alone, and you never will be.”
Her voice faded away, leaving me standing in the middle of a small park. I could hear children laughing and playing, but there were no children around me. Birds were chirping and even the swings were moving like a child sat on them, but I was the only being present. The strangeness of the situation passed quickly for me, though. I wasn’t alone anymore.
“I’m sorry that I frightened you, Zyan,” the familiar voice said apologetically. “That was never my intention.”
“I know, Mr. Conner,” I replied as I turned around to face my demons. My entire body was trembling as I thought about every beating that the man from the other universe had given me throughout my time in his home. “It’s not your fault.”
The man sat down on the ground, never taking his eyes away from me as he moved slowly. I couldn’t stop the slight feeling of shame as I realized that the man was doing everything he could, to prove to me that he wasn’t a threat. Everything from my past was being challenged in that moment. I could see the physical differences between the man named Harold Conner and the man I called the Monster. Harold’s eyes were a darker shade of green and they seemed to shimmer in the sunlight. His hair was a lighter shade of brown like it had been naturally lightened by the sun. Even the sound of his voice was different. I swallowed my pride as the man sat there, silently waiting for me to make my move.
I took the first fateful step towards Harold, letting the momentum of my body carry me forward until I was being held in the man’s tight embrace. I sobbed uncontrollably as he held me. Harold rubbed the palms of his hands up and down my back as he whispered soft words of encouragement to me.
‘Why couldn’t I have met this man instead of the Monster?’ I wondered absently.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered hesitantly.
“You have nothing to apologize for, Zyan,” Harold told me, not releasing his tender grip on my body. “I would have acted the same way. Though, I don’t think I would have been able to give everybody the headache that you did.”
“What?” I asked in surprise before I remembered the wave of pain that had followed my massive shout. I frowned as tears filled my eyes, again. “They’re all going to be mad at me.”
“None of the boys are mad at you, Zyan,” Harold told me in the same reassuring tone as he hugged me tighter. “Davie said something about you needing to be taught some control, though. I think Kyle agreed?”
“Yeah,” Harold replied with a chuckle. “Theresa said you would learn it by the time you returned to us.”
“If I live,” I whispered.
“I have faith in you, Zyan,” Harold told me solemnly. I looked at him in surprise. “You can defeat the Darkness. All you have to do is look into yourself. That is where your answers will be when the time comes.”
“If I seal the rifts, though, I won’t be able to come back,” I responded.
“Won’t you?” He asked with a raised eyebrow. The tone of his voice told me that he believed different. “Come on, Zyan. We need to get you home, buddy. If I get too attached, I’m not going to let you leave us.”
I giggled slightly at his words.
“Can I say goodbye to Harris, first?” I asked.
“Of course,” the man that resembled my Monster told me before he stood to his feet, still holding me securely in his firm arms. I couldn’t stop the sigh of content from escaping my lips as the world shifted around us.
“That’s a good sign,” Harris said from behind us. I couldn’t stop my cheeks from flushing red as I turned my head to look at my friend. Arys’s eyes reflected the smile on his face, showing me how much happiness, my friend felt at that moment. “He gives great hugs, doesn’t he?”
“Yeah,” I whispered.
“Come here, Harris,” Harold said, holding one arm out towards his son. I felt Harris’s arm wrap around my back as he pressed his own body into our hug. “There we go.”
“I can’t stay,” I whispered sadly.
“I know,” Harris replied with the same tone. “My mother told me before she sent me here.”
“I wish I could.”
“Me too, Zyan.”
“Once I can get the timelines repaired,” I heard myself continuing, “I’ll try to come back and visit, Arys.”
“Don’t stay away too long,” Harris responded with a hitch in his voice.
I reached out and hugged him tightly to me before I finally pulled away from the father and son. I smiled at both of them. Harold was no longer the Monster to me. That was what I needed at that moment. I needed to learn that there were differences in every universe. Harold was one of those differences. Then, Davie appeared with Denly standing beside him.
“Can we go home, now?” Denly asked quickly.
“Yeah,” I replied with a grin and held out my hand. “Let’s get out of here. I miss my mom and dad.”
Denly took my hand and smiled at Harold and Harris. “It was nice meeting the both of you,” he told them politely.
“I’m sending you back to the moment you left, Zyan,” Davie told me with a smile. “Until next time. . .”
Before either of us had a chance to respond, Denly and I were suddenly standing back in my bedroom with my father staring back at the both of us.
“That didn’t take long, Zyan,” he said with a hint of annoyance in his voice.
“Sorry, dad,” I replied sadly. “I didn’t mean to do it. All I did was turn around and I was gone. . .”
“I’m not mad, Zyan,” my father told me as he pulled me into his lap. “Denly, I believe your mother would like to see you. . .”
“Of course, Uncle David!” Denly agreed before he quickly hugged my dad and ran from the room. I smiled as I heard the sounds of the tearful reunion drift in through my open door.
“You did a great job, Zyan,” my father said. “We need to get your powers under control, though. So, it’s time for you to take another journey.”
“Where am I going?” I asked in confusion.
“You’re going home, Zyan.”
“How am I going to stop the rifts, though?” I asked him nervously.
My father smiled and patted my back. “Have faith, Zyan. You will be the savior of us all.” Then, my father stood, and I was sent falling into a dark abyss as everything around me vanished. . .
“Wake up, Zyan,” the tiny voice whispered in my ear. “There are people here to see you.” I was lying on something soft, the room around me was a soft blue in color as I opened my eyes. Wyndel immediately stuck his face in front of my own. “It’s about time you woke up, Zyan. You’ve been asleep for several days.”
“Relax, Wyndel,” a deep voice stated from nearby. “The boy needed his rest.”
“My apologies, your Majesty,” Wyndel chirped as he glanced to my right. Then, he moved off to my left after taking another worried glance at me. I sat up slowly, deciding that I needed to figure out what was going on. I looked to my right to see my great-grandfather standing next to an open window with a smile on his lips.
“Welcome back, grandson,” he greeted me warmly. “Your father tells me that it is time to advance your training. I believe he is wrong, though. The situation has changed more than we expected, so I pulled you out of the timeline.”
“So, I’m really here this time?” I asked hesitantly. “I’m not dreaming?”
“No,” the man chuckled. “You’re really here. Now, let’s begin your training. The Darkness is spreading faster than we anticipated.”
My stomach dropped at his words. My fight with the Darkness was coming. There was no way to avoid my fate. . .