South Carolina Book Festival 2015
This is the beginning of a new short story in The Narthex Academy Series:
“Asher!” Jackson said. He was in my driveway messing around with a skateboard he’d found in our garage. “C’mon, man! You’re slower than my grandma sometimes. Let’s GO!”
I watched from inside the garage as the board flew out from underneath him and heard him land with a THUD. I couldn’t see his face behind my car but his feet were in the air and he was laughing. He wasn’t hurt. He was used to crashing and burning at just about anything that required coordination. Although he was about three inches shorter than me, that lower center of gravity really didn’t help him much. On his feet, which were still hanging in the air, were a pair of light blue Sperry’s. I really hope he’s brought some boots to change into. Those shoes won’t make it through the mud. But this is Jackson Ammons. He doesn’t think of stuff like that.
I threw the last few things I would need into my back pack and grabbed my sleeping bag. Jackson and I were headed out for a weekend of camping and quail hunting at the club in Kingstree. A friend of my dad’s was taking his dogs out to and offered to let Jackson and me come along. I’m really looking forward to it. I need a break. My junior year has been kind of rough. I just want to just forget about it for a couple days.
It all started the first week of school when my old headmaster became my new headmaster. Long story, (novel length actually). He tried to kill me over some information about power over death that I wouldn’t give him. Then, when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, six weeks later we had the hurricane of the century here in Charleston. While sane people were evacuating, my friends and I rode it out in an old church near our school to fight a battle to the death against creatures that can’t technically die. Sounds easy, right? Like I said before, the sane people left the area. And when I say ‘my friends and I’, I mean me, Jackson, and my friend, Maclaine. Well, I think Maclaine’s actually more than a friend, but I’m not sure. I know you’re wondering why I don’t just ask her if we’re more than friends and then I’ll know, right? I have no idea why I don’t ask. I just don’t.
Looking back, riding out the hurricane may not have been the best decision, because I almost died. (Yes, for the second time in one semester.) But the reason we didn’t evacuate was to help Luke and Drew, the warriors from the Third Heaven assigned to protect Maclaine. We fought alongside them in what we now refer to as “The Battle of the Gates”. We were able to defeat Kane and his army and the gate connecting Heaven and Earth that had been hidden on our campus for thousands of years was re-opened. Winning that battle allowed all of Heaven’s warriors to flood through our gate to re-open the other closed gates around the world.
Actually, now that I think about it, Luke and Drew are probably the biggest reasons I don’t “just ask” Maclaine if we are more than friends. If you saw them you would get it. They’re what you would call “intimidating”.
I walked out and closed the garage door. “Let’s take your truck,” I said.
Jackson nodded and walked toward his truck parked in front of my parent’s house. Then he stopped and looked down. “Uh, Asher, what’s this?”
I threw my gear into the bed of his truck and walked over to where he was standing to take a look. As I got closer, I saw a roll of old – I mean ancient – looking paper lying propped up against the post of the mailbox at the bottom of our driveway. “No clue,” I said.
I reached down to pick it up. It was so much heavier than it looked. I had to hold it with both hands to support its weight. “What is that thing?” Jackson asked again.
I didn’t answer him. Instead, I turned the roll of paper over in my hand. On the other side was a gold seal, connecting the edge of the paper to the roll. This was no normal wax seal. It was made of some sort of metal.
“Special delivery?” Jackson asked.
“I guess,” I said, shrugging.
“Maybe it’s for the general?” he asked, referring to my father, a general in the United States Army Corps of Engineers. He reached out and touched the seal with the tip of his finger. Sparks flew off the seal and Jackson jerked his finger back in pain. “Dang!” He yelled. “What was that?” He shook his finger and then looked at it. The tip of his finger was red and raw, and a blister was forming.
“That’s a pretty good burn, J,” I said, trying to smother my laughter.
“Yeah, no kidding. Thanks,” he said with a scowl on his face. He stuck the burnt finger in his mouth and sucked on it.
I turned my attention back to the roll of paper, careful not to make the same mistake he had made. “Do you think we should just leave it here?” I asked, more to myself than to him. When it came to this kind of stuff – this out-of-the-ordinary kind of stuff – Jackson always seemed to fall on the side of “forget about it”. Especially if it inconvenienced him in any way.
“Well,” he said, “it doesn’t have your name on it. Maybe we should just leave it here for whoever might come back for it.”
“I don’t think this was left here by FedEx,” I said. I looked up and down the street. I don’t know who I was looking for. I didn’t really expect someone to walk up to me and say “Ohhhh…that’s where I left my roll of old paper with the electric seal on it!”
Jackson was annoyed. He looked at his phone to check the time. Yep, he was being inconvenienced. This was cutting into his hunting plans. “We could just put it back where we found it. I mean, we were supposed to leave over an hour –.” A loud rumble drowned out the end of his sentence.
We both turned and looked in the direction the rumble was coming from. It seemed to be coming from the open field across the street from my house. The field isn’t maintained and the weeds are about 18 inches high. Suddenly, the middle of the field started to glow. It was on fire!
By the time we ran across the street to get a closer look, the flames were reaching about eight feet high. It was so strange – the field was on fire, but none of the grass or weeds were burning. They just stayed a greenish-brown. The ground shook again. This time it shook so hard we both fell onto the cement sidewalk in front of the field. As we lay there, we heard a voice all around us, like surround sound.
Jackson looked around us in amazement, trying to see where the voice was coming from. “Whoa…,” he mumbled.
Thankfully, the voice told us to do something easy because I wasn’t taking notes. “Find Reuben. Deliver the scroll to him,” it said.
Suddenly the rumbling stopped and the fire went out. The field looked exactly like it did a few minutes ago. Still sitting on the sidewalk, we looked at each other. “So…who’s Reuben?” Jackson asked.
Speaker: The Narthex Academy Series, Book 2
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I’m not sure which of these I like better: working on a shrimp boat, or the fact that working on a shrimp boat drives my dad crazy. While I love everything about being on the water and fishing, watching that vein in my dad’s neck pop out every time I talk about my job may be just a tad bit more fun. I mean, my dad requires I have a job; I’ve found a job I like; and it just happens to be a job that he can’t stand me doing. It’s just pure coincidence. A happy, happy coincidence.
I was jerked out of my thoughts by a wrench whizzing by my ear. Two more millimeters to the right and I wouldn’t need a haircut on that side of my head for a couple months. I turned around to see where the wrench came from and heard Ralph, shrimp boat captain for the day, yell at me from under his Ford F250, “Asher, if you want your truck to last, don’t tow anything with it!”
“Yeah, ok,” I said, just to make him feel like I was listening. It doesn’t really pertain to me. I don’t own a truck, and that’s another point of contention between my dad and me.
For the past forty-five minutes, while I had been taking loads of supplies from the trailer to the shrimp boat, all I had seen of Ralph were his grease-stained pants and mud-covered boots sticking out from underneath his truck. He must have tried to tow the nineteen-foot center-console fishing boat named First Coat from Moultrie Marina; the dry stack marina further down Shem Creek. It’s only about a mile away. We are going to use First Coat today to follow along behind Ashley’s Wind, the eighty-foot shrimp boat we’re taking out. I guess Ralph’s truck broke down again during the towing. Not a surprise. It’s kind of a regular occurrence with his truck.
I delivered two cases of bottled water to the shrimp boat and then stood on the deck looking down Shem Creek toward Charleston Harbor. It was pretty cool being out here so early in the morning with the sun rising over the marsh.
If I could ever get my dad (General William Haynes of the Army Corps of Engineers) to agree, I would go into a career with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), here in South Carolina, right after high school. The thought of my dad ever agreeing to that is hilarious. I might as well tell him I was going to join the circus after high school. Either way, I would get the same reaction: “No son of mine will waste a top notch education from the Citadel by spending their days doing that.” I could hear my dad’s native Charlestonian accent in my head.
And for that matter, no ‘son of General Haynes’ will attend any other college than the Citadel, so I probably shouldn’t even broach the topic of not wanting to go there. (Well, I guess if I got into Harvard he’d probably make an exception.) I just laughed out loud. Good thing there aren’t many people around the dock this time of the morning or they’d think I was crazy. Me. Making it into Harvard. Now that’s funny. Let’s just say good grades and I don’t get along very well. I do well enough to keep the General off my back (for the most part); but no Ivy League school will be beating down my door anytime soon.
I was really looking forward to being out on my boss’ shrimp boat today. It’s been a while. This summer, I worked at Moultrie’s on Shem Creek, a dry dock where people kept their boats, further down the creek from the harbor (where Ralph picked up the boat). My job mostly consisted of helping the clients that stored their boats there. We would pull the boats out of the stacked storage, gas them up, and have them ready to go when the clients arrived. Then, when they got back from their day on the water, we would sometimes clean their catch for them. That depended on whether or not they were a really good client. The tips were good, but the money didn’t really matter. Just spending the summer on the water, in the sun, and jumping in the creek for a swim when you got too hot, made it just about the best job ever.
Today, though, I’m going to be part of a five man crew on Ashley’s Wind. He doesn’t do this often, but sometimes my boss gets asked by VIPs coming into Charleston (that means big name celebrities) to arrange a private tour that will give them the “Lowcountry shrimping experience.” So this is going to be a “for show” trip only. There won’t be much real shrimping today.
Ralph has worked for my boss for years and will be our captain for the trip. The rest of us will be casting the nets and pulling them in all day while the VIPs pretty much just sit and watch us. After that, before we come back to the dock, we’ll take them to Little Bull Island, a small barrier island off the coast, and feed them crackers and cheese while they sit on the sand and take pictures with their phones. That’s when I get to fish on my own for a while. Sounds like an awesome way to spend a Sunday to me.
Ralph finally came out from under his truck as the last of our crew showed up. Two of the guys were regulars. I had worked with them a few times before, but there was a new person – Tahani. I’ve never seen her around here before. I mean, not that I don’t think a girl can do this kind of work or anything – but they just don’t typically sign up for it. I know her from my Aramaic class at Narthex Academy, the small private school I’ve attended since six weeks into my freshman year. I wonder how she got hooked up with this?
“Hey Asher,” Tahani said to me.
“Uh, hey, Tahani,” I answered. I hope I didn’t look as confused as I felt about seeing her here.
Tahani is a junior like me. She’s really tall for a girl, probably about 5’11, and has long black hair, almost to her waist, and light brown eyes with really thick black lashes. I heard she moved here from Hawaii. She’s so tall that people at school have questioned why she was attending Narthex (a school without a girls’ basketball team) and wasn’t at Wando, or one of the other large area high schools to play for them. Not that I know if she even likes basketball, but I guess people just assume she should like it and play it if she’s built for it. It’s kind of like the same questions I get all the time about playing basketball. I hate that by the way. Not that I hate basketball, I just hate that everyone assumes because I’m tall I must like and play basketball. No one ever says “Hey, you’re tall; you must play guitar.” That would be more accurate at least.
I soon found out the “special guests” that had requested this trip were a very famous blond actress, her fiancé, and one of her friends. (I can’t say exactly which famous actress it is, because I’m sworn to secrecy when we go on these special tours, but, trust me, you know who she is. She’s the one from the big-stinkin’-deal summer movie. Yep, that actress.) They’re in town because the happy couple is getting married this week at Boone Hall Plantation. Boone Hall is one of the oldest continuously working plantations (farms) in the country. For over three hundred years they have been growing produce, cotton, etc. And that’s your fun fact for the day. You’re welcome.
The VIPs were not dressed in what I would consider “shrimp boat” attire. They showed up in mostly white clothing, no hats, and the women were wearing high-heeled sandals. They looked more like they were dressed for a commercial for a cruise company than for a shrimping trip offshore.
We boarded everyone on the boat, and I worked to untie the ropes holding us to the dock. When the last one was loose, Ashley’s Wind took off. Ralph went about giving our guests an informal tour of the harbor as we passed by interesting sites. Then we spent a couple of hours going through the normal routine of casting the nets and bringing them up again to check for shrimp. We didn’t go very far out, just stayed kind of close to shore. This was going to be a short easy trip.
While all this was going on, I watched the couple. It was painfully obvious that this day was all her idea. You could tell her fiancé hated every single dirty minute of his time on this boat. He kept dusting off his white pants and hesitated to touch anything. He tiptoed around the deck trying not to get his perfectly white Topsiders ruined. Not to mention, his light blue button down shirt was so tight that he could hardly raise his arms. He couldn’t really reach anything high if he tried. The actress on the other hand was grabbing the shrimp out of the nets with her bare hands and squealing with excitement. (Well, it sounded like squealing. Not sure what else you would call it.) There wasn’t really much shrimp for her to squeal over, though. This trip was solely for the amusement of some Lowcountry tourists, so we, the crew that is, didn’t really care that our catch for the day was low.
Finally we loaded everyone on First Coat, which had been following us for the last couple of hours. (We only brought it along on these tours for the purpose of taking the guests from Ashley’s Wind to the shore of the island.) It was crackers and cheese time. We tied First Coat off to a couple of trees close to the shore and went about the process of getting everyone from the boat to the beach. That wasn’t as easy as it should have been.
Normally our guests come dressed for boating. And for water. And for getting wet. But not these three. The actress’ friend was named Kimberly (though she’s no one famous) and the fiancé (named Dave) were hesitant to get wet, so Dave opted to stay on the boat over the options of jumping in the knee-deep water or being carried to the beach by a crew member. I was glad about that. I definitely didn’t want to be the one to carry the guy to shore. We handed him his cheese and crackers in the boat. Ralph asked me to carry Kimberly off the boat and take her to the beach. “Ok. No problem,” I said, trying to sound like I carry very pretty women off boats every day. (I don’t.) At least she was a small very pretty woman.
Kimberly smiled down at me as I stood in the knee-deep water looking up at her in the rocking boat. Was she trying to decide if she could trust me not to drop her? “How do you want to do this?” She asked not sounding worried at all. “Should I just jump?” She laughed. That just made me more nervous. My palms started to sweat. Hopefully, she wouldn’t notice.
“Uh, you could just swing your legs over the side,” I offered. Great, Asher. Way to sound confident.
“Ok, here goes!” She jumped off the edge of the boat into my arms. I’m not sure how I did it, but I managed to make sure I didn’t fall over and didn’t drop her in the water. I moved toward the shore concentrating on just putting one foot in front of the other. We made it out of the water without both of us going down, so I considered it a success. I set Kimberly on her feet. “Thanks, Asher. You have a very sweet smile by the way.” I couldn’t see her eyes behind her sunglasses, but she was smiling.
I think my entire head turned red. I could feel my ears burning.
“Thanks,” I managed to croak out and then ran away acting like I had a ton of work to do. I wonder if she realized that I didn’t have pretty girls compliment me every day. Well, any day.
As I walked back toward the boat, I watched as the actress kicked off her shoes, rolled up her white pants, jumped into the knee-deep water, and was making her way to the shore like it was the most fun she’d ever had.
After setting up the shade tent on the beach and pulling the coolers off the boat, our guests and crew (minus Dave, of course) sat on the beach of Little Bull Island soaking up the sunshine and eating. I took the opportunity to walk down the beach to find a good place to drop in my line.
I had been at it for about forty-five minutes. As I re-baited my hook for the twentieth time at least, I contemplated giving up. I hadn’t even caught one fish. Unfortunately, that’s not abnormal for me. Even my bait finds a way to get loose from my hook. Fish seem to avoid me almost as much as girls do. I’m just that kind of guy, I guess. Lucky me.
I was mid-cast when I noticed a man standing about ten feet further down the beach. I froze. This wasn’t just any man. This was The Man. The one that appears to me in my dreams. Those dreams. The dreams that tell me when something is going to happen. I’ve had these dreams and seen The Man since I was a little boy. But I’ve never seen him while I was awake. This was a first. In my shock, I dropped my fishing pole and stood there staring at him. He looked the same as in my dreams. His face looked human, but there was something different – something not exactly human about it. He had a chiseled jaw and bright blue eyes. Eyes so bright and compelling, it was hard to look away. They were like magnets that my human eyes didn’t stand a chance against. His clothes looked yellow, but I realized that they were white with a slight glow around them.
“Hello, Asher,” he said, holding his hand out to me. I wasn’t sure if he wanted to shake hands or not, but my hands were not obeying commands from my brain right now, so it wasn’t going to happen. Sorry, guy. Hope you’re not offended. My mouth was frozen, so I didn’t answer him either. I don’t think I could form words if I tried.
“Don’t worry. This is no different than when you see me in your dreams,” he continued as if realizing this probably wasn’t going to be a two-way conversation. “Asher, we are at a place of urgency. The Beautiful Gate across the sea is under attack and soon the battle will be here. It will be fierce and you must be prepared. You are being sent another – ‘one set apart’ – to aid you in the fight. You will need her strength if you are to prevail. Don’t be afraid or become discouraged. The circumstances will appear much darker before you begin to turn the tide of the battle. Be courageous, Asher. And remember, you are chosen.” Then he was gone. Not even footprints were left in the sand where he was standing. Was that a heat-induced delusion?
He said something about a battle? What battle? I mean, you would think if there were going to be a battle, meaning fighting and weapons and stuff, he would be over talking to Luke and Drew right now.
Luke and Drew are the sometimes “Narthex-Academy-high-school-students-in-disguise” and the sometimes “massive-warriors-from-the-third-Heaven” creatures that helped my friend Maclaine (friend who is a girl, not my girlfriend) and I defeat Dr. Wragg, our ex-headmaster, and his evil demon helper, Kane, at the beginning of this school year. We couldn’t have defeated Kane without them.
Kane is a grotesque creature that smells, and like Luke and Drew, masquerades as a high school student at Narthex Academy. He’s at Narthex because Maclaine is a very powerful prophet and gets sent on some amazing missions with the protection of Luke and Drew. Kane’s whole job is to prevent her from doing her job. Oh, and just to keep himself entertained, he likes to pick on humans and try to talk them into doing evil things. Unfortunately for us, it’s not always that hard to get people to do evil things. And, when he’s in a really good mood, he tries to kill me just for fun.
Luke and Drew are also huge and scary, but they are all about helping people do well, and not to mention, they wield glowing super-swords. They would be the ones to talk to about a battle. If you need some information from a dream, I’m your guy. You want putrid demon thugs eliminated, you probably should look elsewhere. It’s just the facts.
I looked up toward the sky and threw up a thought, ‘If you want me to start waving a glowing sword, and leading a charge into battle, you’re going to have to give me a sign. And, by a sign, I mean one I can’t miss even If I tried.’ In all honesty, I had no idea which way my visitor went, but the sky seemed a natural direction.
Speaker: The Narthex Academy Series, Book 2:
Order here: http://ow.ly/DqPWD
Today, my step-mom,Vicky, sent me to the post office to mail a couple of packages. Because I was still trying to get her to help me convince my dad to let me purchase a truck in a few weeks, I decided to do it with no questions asked. I even offered to pick up my little brother from daycare on my way home. Yep. She was thrilled. I can feel the power of the V8 engine already.
It was almost 5, closing time at the Mt. Pleasant Post Office. I was behind seven other package-balancing customers and all 8 pairs of eyes were focused on the two postal workers behind the counter. I was annoyed. If it wasn’t for the fact that one of Vicky’s packages had to go overnight, no matter how much I needed her backing on the “truck front”, I would’ve left. But, it did. So I stayed. And waited.
As if the postal workers weren’t slow enough, there was an old woman at the counter talking to one of the postal workers as if they were the only two people in the post office. She seemed to miss the line of annoyed customers behind her. She was telling him how she’d sent a package to her son in Shreveport, Louisiana, last week and he’d never received it. The postal worker was trying to explain to her it was possible the package was being held for her son at the Shreveport post office and he could retrieve it there, but the woman wasn’t listening.
She went on to tell him what her son did for a living (a lawyer) and how much he traveled (a lot), and how little he calls her (never). Where did she think was, anyway? As if any of us care about all that!
Finally, the postal worker as able to get her to leave. I watched as the old woman slowly shuffled toward the door. As she pushed it open with a big shove, she turned and looked at me right in the eye. “She” winked and then I heard a familiar deep laugh. You have got to be kidding me! How can I have fallen for that? Is he completely bored? Does he have nothing better to do in this world than drive me insane? #annoyingwarriorsofthethirdheaven
Have you ever had that feeling someone…or something…was watching you? Yeah, I had that feeling today.
I was at work (a boat storage company) cleaning Mr. Sideman’s catch at the outdoor sink on the dock. We do a lot more for our good clients that just dropping boats in the water. (And it never hurts if they tip well.) I was standing in the blazing Charleston heat, focused on the running water in front of me. I felt … no, I knew someone was standing behind me. I turned around but no one was there. Then I saw a black flash out of the corner of my eye. It was close to the ground and moved back toward the river before it disappeared. I thought I must be seeing things. I had my sunglasses on and the sun was really bright.
I turned back to gut the Sheepshead I had been scaling and I swear, right next to my ear I heard “Asher”. I even felt breath on my neck. It freaked me out so much I sliced my finger open with the knife. I turned and looked behind me again. No one.
I looked down and realized I was bleeding all over the sink.