Fifteen-year-old Gaige Porter is special. He just doesn’t know it yet.
When a strange girl shows up in his class after he dreamed of her, he doesn’t know what to make of it. He had never met her before. Things only get weirder from there.
He is lured into a gateway to another world much like Earth, but very different. Along with Seanna Bryant and Aoife Connelly, he must face danger, friendship, and betrayal while he tries to figure out what it means to be a hero.
The year Scott was born was like any other, though a commemorative quarter was produced to celebrate his arrival (or so he assumes). He grew up in a place in America that’s a little too hot and now lives in a place in America that’s a little too cold. Growing up, he hated reading anything that didn’t have cool drawings of muscular men wearing spandex punching other muscular men wearing spandex. That is until he found a book that transported him to a world full of knights, elves, dragons, and gods. In the time that followed, he’s devoured many worlds.
A few years ago, he discovered a gateway to another world very much like Earth, but so very different. In the time that followed, he’s struggled with telling the story, but he is coming forward with a tale of another who was lured into a gateway much like himself. If there’s one lesson to be learned from this story, if you do find yourself on another world, keep your wits about you, trust sparingly, and let your imagination fly.
I walked home alone, retracing the steps Aoife and I had made that morning. With nothing but my thoughts for company, I brought up mental images of the girl from my dream to compare to Seanna Bryant from literature class. I kept seeing her blue eyes locking with mine, if only for a moment, as she left class. It was just like when the girl from my dream stared at me from the stands. Both images danced around in my head and made my chest tighten.
I tried to concentrate on comparing the two. They were fleeting moments. Moments that made me feel something. Corny, I know, but true. I’d like to say I handled my “personal tragedy” with courage. No, that’s corny, too. With bravery? No. Whatever the word for it, I didn’t shut down. I could have. It would have been easy to just block everything out and not give a crap about anything after my parents’ accident. Trust me, I considered it. And my therapist figured I would at some point, but I didn’t. I pushed it all down. The pain. The hurt. The sadness. I pressed it all into a tiny box and buried it in the backyard, so to speak. Maybe, in a way, I did shut down. There was a by-product of expunging those negative feelings. Feeling much of anything became hard for me. I put on a good show in front of friends. A show so good sometimes I thought I actually believed I was normal.
There was one thing, however, that wasn’t a show. My anger. I tried to stuff it in that little box, but it always broke free and raged like a lunatic inside me. I realized when it happened. I wasn’t so blind that I didn’t recognize my struggle to control it. When I couldn’t, it roared its ugly head like a manic beast. It was the only true emotion I felt. Everything else was peripheral feelings skittering along the outside, wanting to get inside and make me feel normal. I never let them.
But when the girl in my dreams looked at me, I felt something I couldn’t even name. Whatever it was, it shouldered past the jeering crowd and landed on me like a comfortable blanket from childhood. When the girl in class, Seanna, glanced at me, the same feeling rolled over me. But just like the dream, it was gone as soon as it had settled. That’s what I wanted to recapture and hold on to for dear life. I wanted to pull that blanket over me as I walked home, letting its soothing touch wash over me in waves.
But the thoughts of her mixed with the fight with Aunt Stacy, my mom’s strange episode, and the horrible game. Like a mosh pit inside my head, they buzzed and bumped around inside my skull. I needed something to drive them out, if only temporarily, before I went insane. I pulled a pair of tiny earphones out of my pocket and untangled them before sticking them in my ears. I dug an MP3 player out and turned it on. I searched for something loud and fast, hoping to drive all other thoughts from my head.
My slow steps took me past Mr. Minor’s house. The jittery little man paced around his yard, leaning over to run a hand along the concrete foundation his pale yellow house stood on, inspecting it for possible damage the morning’s earthquake might have caused. I considered walking on by, but I liked the man. Mr. Minor used to be my dentist before he retired a few years back. Maybe a conversation would help clear my mind.
“Hey, Mr. M.” I winced, remembering too late to not speak as loud as my head thought I needed to with growling guitars pulsing in my ears.
Mr. Minor jumped and spun on his heel. A look of relief spread over his face when he saw me. He raised and dropped a hand in an imitation of a wave before turning back to his inspection.
I sighed. So much for conversation. I continued in the direction of my house.
Mr. Minor’s head popped out from some bushes to watch an UPX delivery van roll down the street. He disappeared back into the bushes once the van was out of sight.
Ten houses later I stood on the sidewalk in front of my yard. The grass was overgrown again. It stood taller than my ankles. I decided I would mow the lawn that weekend. I knew I shouldn’t let it get so high. Pushing the lawnmower through that mess would be like pushing a car through a lake, but finding the motivation to do it usually proved impossible. The bushes that lined the front porch grew just as out of control, except the one that I had mangled while trying to trim it a few weeks back. It stood as a testament to how woeful I was at helping keep up the place.
I sighed again. I wasn’t ready to face my aunt and mother. The look of pity in Stacy’s face and the vacant look in my mom’s eyes would push me over the edge again. Of that I had no doubt. What was at the bottom of that drop off the ledge? I didn’t know and I didn’t want to find out. I pulled my dinosaur cellphone out of a pocket and flipped it open. I speed-dialed 3 and pulled the earphones out just as Stacy answered on the third ring.
“Hey, you home yet?” I glanced at the powder blue ’65 Mustang sitting in the driveway, her “baby” inherited from her brother when he was killed in action in Afghanistan a couple years ago, not long after my parents’ accident.
“Yeah. Took off early. Are you on the way home?”
I hesitated a moment. “No, I’m heading over to Brian’s. We’re going to study for a geometry test tomorrow,” I lied.
“Oh.” An even longer moment passed. “Will you be home for dinner?”
“Probably not. You and Mom go ahead and eat. I’ll grab something to shove in my feed hole at Brian’s.”
“All right. Don’t stay out too late.”
“Of course. See ya.”
I heard “Love you, G,” before I flipped the phone closed. I winced. Great, hang up on your aunt while she’s saying I love you. Great job.
I sighed, a reoccurring and involuntary action lately. I followed the narrow path between the left side of the house and fence, ducking under the living room window. Toward the back was a lean-to in need of repair where I parked my scooter. I pushed it out and down the sidewalk a ways before starting it. The electronic ignition was broken, so I had to kick it to life. I plugged the earphones back into my ears and gave the scooter gas. I didn’t have a destination in mind, just took off down the street.
Technically, I wasn’t old enough to ride the scooter on city streets, but I did it anyway. Often against my aunt’s wishes. She usually let me get away with it because the rundown thing had been my dad’s before he died. Chalk that one up to sentimentality. As for the law, the trick was to look like I belonged on it and not do anything stupid to attract attention. Something I had become adept at. Usually.
I ended up at Gate City Park, happy to find it mostly deserted. The only park-goers were a couple of mothers watching over their toddlers while they played on the small jungle gym on the other side of the park. I parked the scooter and headed for the swings. There was something about the back-and-forth motion that soothed me. Rocking my troubles away like Grandpa used to say.
My seclusion didn’t last long, however. When some older kids showed up to invade my personal swinging space, I hopped off and walked deeper into the park. On the far side, parallel to the road, the ground sloped up until a tree-covered rock face jutted from the earth. It ranged in height from fifteen feet to nearly thirty, and there were paths all along the face, winding in and out of the boulders on the way up to the upper park area.
I started up one of the paths until I found a smooth boulder hidden behind bushes. I pulled myself onto it, sat, and drew my knees up to my chest. Time melted away as music raged in my ears. Below, people came and went. Kids played until their bored parents called for them to leave. Young couples came to spend time together outside, being all cute, sneaking kisses and holding hands in the lush, well-watered, green grass. A couple even came to have their engagement pictures taken, giggling and trying to be serious the whole time. Other would-be climbers passed by, never noticing me just off the path, hidden on my boulder by a scraggly bush.
Many things went through my mind while I sat there. I watched the parents with their kids with a certain amount of bitterness. My parents used to bring me to this park when I was younger. I watched the couples, thinking back on my own brief ventures into coupledom. Very brief, awkward affairs. Mostly, I let the drumbeats and the flickering guitars drive all thoughts from my mind. I tried, anyway. They didn’t find much success.
From my perch, I watched the sky turn different shades of purple, orange, and pink as the sun slowly lowered itself from the sky. I considered climbing from the boulder and heading home a couple times, but never got around to it until my MP3’s battery died. I pulled the earphones out and wound them up, shoving them in my pocket along with the little player. I stood on the rock, ready to hop down and head back to the scooter.
“It’s not your fault, you know.”
My foot slid off the rock, nearly dumping me face first to the ground. I managed to land on my feet, but it didn’t include any graceful moves. The visual of a blind dodo bird landing on a moving boat wouldn’t be too far off the mark. I turned in the direction of the voice coming from the other side of the boulder. A figure moved out from behind it, sticking to the shadows cast by trees blocking out the setting sun.
“Who…” I squinted and the person came into view. My heart skipped a beat or two when I saw Seanna standing a few feet away. I opened and closed my mouth a couple times, cleared my throat, and then did it again before I found my voice. “How did you get back there?”
“What happened wasn’t your fault. There’s nothing you could have done.” She stopped a couple feet in front of me. The sharp angles of her thin face softened close up, making her even more beautiful.
“I…What are you talking about?” The warm feelings I described before crashed over me like monster waves. They made my insides jelly and my brain mush.
“What about her?” I frowned. Just the mention of my mom cleared my head and set me on the defensive.
“And your dad, too, of course.”
“What about them? What are you talking about?”
“What happened to them wasn’t your fault.”
I took a step back. My heart roared back to life and beat hard against my ribs. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. What happened was an accident. I wasn’t even there. I have to go.” I turned to walk away but came up short at her next words.
“You were glad when they left. You always felt like you had more freedom when your aunt watched you while they were gone.”
I turned slowly back to her. “How did you—”
“When they told you they were going for a drive, you were happy. You had big plans to have fun with your aunt. You were going to stay up as long as you could, eating as much junk food as possible.” The wooden necklace that hung at her chest began to glow a soft purple.
My jaw hung a bit. “Who are you?”
“Somebody who can help you.”
“I don’t need any help.” I shook my head again, trying to pull my eyes from hers. They only dragged me in deeper.
“You don’t blame yourself at all for their accident? You don’t tell yourself that if you would have asked them to stay, they would have stayed home instead of going out on that drive?” She took a step closer. “Haven’t you wished that you had gone with them, that you would have died with your dad?”
Anger cut through my confusion and stormed to the surface. I stepped forward, looming over her. She barely came to my shoulders. “Look, I don’t know who you are, but you don’t have any right digging through people’s lives. You must have some kind of sick, twisted sense of humor. What happened was a car accident, plain and simple. There was nothing I, or anybody else, could have done. Stay away from me.” I turned, but came up short again.
“I can help get your mom back to the way she was.”
“How? Magic?” I snorted. “If this is some sort of sick joke…” I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Magic? Well, yes.”
I turned. Her eyes glowed the same purple as the amulet. They pulled me in. I couldn’t turn away from them even if I wanted.
“I can help her, Gaige. I can help you. I can give you purpose.”
“Purpose for what?” I muttered.
“To live.” She stepped closer, her face angled up to mine. “Isn’t that what you want most other than getting your parents back? I’m offering you both, sort of. There’s nothing that can be done about your dad, but I can help get your mother back.”
“How?” I asked again.
“Let me show you.” She held out her hand to me.
I looked at her extended hand and back to her eyes. They flashed a harder purple and I felt my hand slide into hers. When she wrapped her fingers around mine, I felt a warm tingle slide into my arm, traveling to my shoulder and neck, into my spine, then to my brain. Vivid images flashed through my mind.
I saw high mountains with snow deeper than the tallest man, deep valleys with gentle brooks winding through them. I saw the driest deserts with nothing but red sand as far as could be seen, fields that stretched uninterrupted for miles and miles, and caves that dove so deep into the ground I would have sworn they came out on the other side of the world. Lastly, I saw forests with trees that towered overhead, higher than many of the buildings in downtown Denver.
The images faded, along with the warm tingle. I blinked, looking at my empty hand. “Those were the Redwoods, right?” I looked up to find myself standing alone. “Hey!” I called out. “Seanna?” I turned, looking for her.
I spun to my right in the direction the voice came from, but the trail was empty. “Seanna?” I called out again.
I can help you.
The voice came from my left, along the path heading up the side of the cliff. I caught sight of a shadow moving, then a flash of purple, before it disappeared around a bend.
“Hey! Stop!” I ran after the shadow. “Seanna!”
I turned the corner to find the path empty.
You feel it, don’t you? The voice floated down from the dark.
“Feel what?” I asked the growing shadows. I hurried up the path, moving faster than the rocky terrain deemed safe, but I couldn’t catch up to her. I saw the shadow of movement a few more times, but always as flashes of purple glittering at the edge of my vision. It kept me moving.
I stumbled into a clearing with level ground surrounded by boulders. It looked like the type of place “troubled” teens would go to hang out, but it was surprisingly devoid of the spray paint graffiti that marred other areas. I skidded to a halt and looked around, but Seanna was nowhere to be seen. “Hello?”
I spun toward the cliff face.
Do you feel it now?
“Feel what?” I squinted at the cliff face rising up in front of me. “Seanna?”
My heart thumped in my chest, and my head swam in confusion. But I took a step closer to the wall of rock. The shadows had grown deep by then. The sun had sunk below the horizon, but there in the rock, I saw a dark slice along the face, much darker than the shadowed stone around it. I peered into the narrow cave. Something tugged at me from deep within my chest. It took my breath away.
You feel it now.
A statement, no longer a question.
“Seanna?” I peered deeper into the cave, but the dark was complete. “This isn’t funny anymore.” Not like it was to begin with.
I felt my foot slide closer to the slit in the rock face. The tug inside me yanked at my heart and lungs, pulling me closer. “What’s going on?” My voice sounded far away to my ears. I took another step.
Reach into the gateway.
“Gateway?” My mind fuzzed in and out like spinning the dial on an old-fashioned radio, trying to pick up a station. There were just bare flashes of a coherent song before it was lost to white noise.
My hand rose toward the dark. My shaking fingertips hovered an inch away from the opening. I pushed them forward into the darkness, half expecting the dark to be solid, but my fingers passed into it. My hand disappeared in the hole. Darkness traveled up my arm, thick like motor oil, tugging me deeper into the cave. I tried to pull back, but the dark held onto my arm. It began to tingle up the line of black until it reached my shoulder. A yank pulled me completely into the cave like a spider sucked up by a vacuum. Blackness consumed and blinded me. I felt myself begin to fall apart like a block tower. My entire being split into a million pieces.