I rub my eyes then roll out of bed planting my feet onto the cold floor. The wood beneath me gripes when I stand. I swear under my breath for having such a lousy start to a lousy morning. While I stretch, the warmth of dawn and all its atrocity chases away the darkness.
In the kitchen. I’m gulping down a glass of cold milk when Boris strides past and out the front door. Smells of motor oil and cigarette thick in the air. Not long after him, Daniel appears, television remote in one hand and a half-eaten toasted cheese sandwich in the other. “You coming to watch cartoons with me?”
“Sure, in a minute.” I tell him groggily.
“Peeuw! Your breath reeks!” He grimaces while pinching his nostrils shut.
“It isn’t as atrocious as your sleep-forts.” I tell him.
He giggles and dashes back down the hall, “Hurry and brush your teeth, Caped Crusader’s just now coming on.” He does a flying belly-flop onto the sofa adjacent from the television and takes a bite out of the toasted goodness.
It’s Sunday, the twenty-sixth day of October. The last day of rest until the start of another horrible week of school. Come tomorrow, I’ll have to deal with the two biggest behemoths in Sunnyvale Elementary, my archenemies, the Valmonts.
Before school, Boris fixes us breakfast to monitor the concentrated rations Sunnyvale Elementary shoves at us. History’s first, then Math. A short break before gym. It’s been dodgeball and soccer two weeks now. I don’t foresee change. Shower after getting sweaty and spend lunch period in the library. When he isn’t stalled by popularity, Daniel and I use this time to study. But recently I’ve become more acquainted with the sci-fi compartment rather than cracking open an English textbook with my little brother. I only see him when he forgets to copy answers to homework assignments the night before.
Peering over my shoulder while dashing back to Mrs. Todd’s class for Literature, Science, and Reading. I usually make it on time if the Valmont Brothers have their bloody hands full pummeling some poor defenseless kid. Luckily, my frail size makes for a quick evade…sometimes. The last class of the day is Music. I hated it up until a chubby kid named Carl blew chunks into a Brass Bugle one day. I loved going ever since.
When I finish brushing my teeth, I join Daniel in the living room. He’s stretched out on the sofa leaving me to settle on the floor in-front of the television.
Caped Crusader’s the greatest butt-kicking crime solver of all time. He’s what every kid goes as on Halloween. You would had to have been living under a rock, not to know who the Caped Crusader was. This year, there’ll be hundreds of trick-or-treaters ridiculing the superhero including two of his biggest fans.
Daniel and I are huge fanatics. We’ve never missed an episode and have faithfully purchased all of his gear to include a few books and trophies from winning all sorts of contests. There hasn’t been a Capedless Sunday morning thus far.
When there’s a commercial break, I stretch across the floor and a few of my joints pop. “You want to explore the town a bit after Crusader’s finished?” Daniel asks. His cheeks flushed, eyes filled with an unquenched thirst for adventure.
“Sure, where too?” I bellow midway through a monstrous yawn.
“Anywhere.” Daniel jeers.
“Let’s go explore the spring first, hike up the hill and through the woods.”
Daniel’s eyes grow wide with excitement, “Let’s go as far as Hope Falls this time!”
“You sure you can handle that long of a hike? The last time we went exploring you could barely keep up.” I press half-heartedly.
Daniel smacks his lips, “I was merely taking in the scenes, and besides, adventures in my blood.”
“I’ll run it by Boris after Crusader’s finished.” I tell him.
Before going outside I head up into the attic. Mom’s journal lay open in the middle of the floor. A bed of dust covering it as if it were sitting far longer than yesterday night. I pluck it off the floor then blow on its surface before fixing its frayed pages, and slide it back onto the shelf. There’s a lot of questions running through my mind. Things that boggle me, starting with last night’s dream. It felt horribly real. So real, I can still taste Daniel’s blood on my lip.
I’d tell Boris about it but all he’ll say is that it was just a dream. He’ll probably bar me from staying up late. I shrug it off as another silly nightmare. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so gullible. After all, I have been spending a lot of time in the attic lately.
I thumb through the titles along the shelf and extract a brochure. In it, there’s a map of Rembrandt with major attractions and such. Boris had bought this when we moved here from Sphynx. I’ll use it as a reference while Daniel and I are out exploring.
Rembrandt. A quiet town, near a mountainous region, encircled by forestry. Tranquility at its best and nothing quite like it. Few believe it was swallowed beneath the sea and slowly resurfaced overtime. Whereas, others would suggest that when a comet plummeted to earth, the force of the impact split Sunnyvale in two which inadvertently created Rembrandt. However, their accusations are not entirely true. According to the few books I’ve read which were accounts from several different explorers during the 13th century, a small group of settlers known as Sakahgi Natives discovered it. My ancestors.
The Sakahgi Natives fought in a vast array of wars. Perhaps their most astonishing fray lasted for more than a hundred years. From 1100 to 1204 AD, they battled the Amalekites.
It was a fierce battle that would be canonized as the Battle of Ode Saint Rembrandt. It wasn’t until April 14, 1205 AD when the war nearly wiped the Amalekites out. I’ve tried to chase the rabbit trails on the Amalekites extinction but all I found were deficient claims and references that lead nowhere. The events that followed the end of that war until now is a big question mark.
High in the Clouds along a perpendicular ledge, several-thousand feet unshared from the rest of civilization, sits a row of urban-style mansions. They’re what used to be referred to as poor village dwellers who couldn’t afford lodging provided within the city. Today, these are millionaire entrepreneurs. They chose the location for the scenery and mountain climbing. Because of the vantage point, Daniel and I start almost all our expeditions up there. It’s the only place where you’ll be able to see both Rembrandt and Sunnyvale.
Below it, a bubbling bath of rushing waves crashing against shore. In the heart of town, Ode Saint Rembrandt’s territorial flag is mounted high on a granite podium, with four proud Natives pointing their spears east towards a conglomeration of brimstone buildings and small wooden shacks. The Flag is rendered ocean-blue with a gold boarder, purple noose that warp from the top left-corner to the lower right, like a snake. The lone white star in its center signifies independence.
Citizens of Rembrandt look upon the bronze statues for protection, hope, and guidance, among other relative things, given the appropriate circumstance which supports each individual cause. It helps when often times, confronting Priests at the Spirit Temple might influence disgrace among the other townsfolk. People sure love to gossip around here. A footnote of the Sakahgi Natives who gave their lives during the Battle of Ode Saint Rembrandt, and their purpose in such war, inscribed on a tombstone buried next to their monument.
Adjacent from the four Natives is Israel Park. Those who prefer the simple, yet exquisite venues, Israel Park is the one place for breathtaking views and delicious cuisines prepared by Rembrandt’s finest chefs. And you simply cannot beat dining under the scrutiny of a blue sparkling sky. At least, this is what the brochure says about the place.
People who come here are wealthy, few distant runners, and I suppose a snot-nose spoiled brat of the Valmonts.
I hate those boys!
You might see the occasional romantic couple picnicking by the waterfall. In the center of the park, there’s a colorful collection of trees. From orange, fiery leafs, to green fruitful ones. This vary spot is what’s referred to as the Spirit Trees, an inheritance left behind by the Sakahgi Natives.
These trees never die nor depreciate during the harsh winter storms, and what’s even shocking is that they bleed! Yes, bleed! A normal tree produces sap, but these four large vessels seep blood that’ll ooze like a real corps would when cut or fruit plucked from their vines. No one knows why. Personally, I think it’s cursed. Not in a wicked sense, but as a remembrance. A century of war would most certainly condone the amalgamation of blood trees?
I haven’t done any research on its strangeness nor have I tasted its crimson sap to see if it really does qualify as blood. But the fruit extending from the trees have made many Rembrandt townsfolk deathly ill seconds after just one bite! I know what you’re thinking, “Who would be crazy enough to eat fruit from a tree that bleeds?” Well, the less fortunate and idiots who enjoy absorb challenges most especially for attention. The first illness was enough to quarantine the area, but curious nimrods couldn’t seem to stay away.
A peculiar power from the trees, shuts off any electrical device thirteen-feet of range. Even those large tractors with cranes that stretch stories high, are instantly powered off at thirteen-feet exactly. Cell phones, laptops, watches, cars, flashlights, motorbikes, hand and foot signals, those little orange beeping traffic signs, handheld video games, broadband internet signals, Boris’s old 1970’s boom box, timekeepers, cordless shavers, battery powered billboards, vending machines, electric scooters, Space Alien Cowboy pants (a bad Christmas present by the way), they’re aren’t’ any robots just yet, cameras, music players, all A batteries including the small disk-shaped ones, mental pictures of those small batteries in your mind right now, batteries that aren’t mention but not as important as double A’s, absolutely, positively, I’m not joking, any sort of electrical generated device will be terminated, no matter how big or how small. Even if it requires just a pinch of electricity, the quadruplet will not allow it within range.
Also, the atmosphere’s a lot darker, condensed, grimy particles floating in thin air, and a lot colder inside the thirteen-foot perimeter.
I’ve ventured unexpectedly through the queerness and instantly dramatized by the icy dark slug that blanketed me. I’m not sure how long but for an unknown spans, I think I was idle. But to be perfectly honest, how would anyone know, if they’d been zombified, even if it were brief. Come to think of it, I’m not sure how I made it out.
Scientists have tried to uncover the mystery behind the trees. But they too, suddenly mindless, as if they’re souls had been yanked from their bodies. Demolition experts, axe at hand, drooling lopsidedly. Wobbly kids and their wide-eyed mothers in dubious contemplation, falling over or slowly crawling about like infants. People come from all over the world, loss in misconception. Fixated dead stares of the undead craving brains. Rembrandt Times calls it a Vast Array of Unpleasantries. Americans believe it’s a portal to a parallel universe. Clergy at the Spirit Temple say that it is the true parody, we are the illusion. Star News wrote that Americans have the Tower of Babel and Sakahgi Natives have the Spirit Trees and it tops all the charts as the most popular way of escaping the world of technology.
I can’t truly explain what kind of sorcery’s behind the madness nor imagine the purpose it served to the Sakahgi Natives, but one thing is certain, this town is crammed with secrets that have yet to be unearthed.
The downtown area is located a couple of blocks from the park. It’s the busiest and most charitable. Rembrandt High’s the center building at the head of the curve road that loops around like an arch. From a distance, it looks like an old medieval castle. Brick houses are stacked opposite one another from the school to the corner which feeds off into Israel Park where the last house on the left advertises its vacancy. An old man died there years ago and from what I’m told, it has remained vacant ever since.
Not too far off from it, where a gorgeous spring phosphorescently streams down from the mountains, the Spirit Temple resides. A serene dwelling for prayer and meditation. The Sakahgi Natives built the temple as a monument to their Gods. It has stood the test of time, withered a bit over the years. Outside the temple, beyond the enormous primitive double doors, two statues stand adjacent under a golden archway, facing one another. One is green and the other, ashen. Both wearing similar Trojan uniforms. These are two of the four figurines the Natives referred to as the Spirit Gods. The next two take center stage, with primeval shields and weaponry facing one another. An infuriated flushed warrior and a gentle blue.
Hope Falls. Daniel and I start our expedition on a path littered in deer tracks, not far down lies a crystal stream that cuts the trail in half. We follow the current to a ledge. From here I see the quiet main street beyond large clusters of trees and thick moss. Mindful of smooth imbedded rocks, where the stream runs off into a larger pool of water, we begin our descent. Hope Falls—the plaque behind us lassoed around a tree reads. I set my bag down and fetch my camera out of its side pocket.
The remarkable thing about cameras is that they capture a moment at the click of a button. Everlasting still. The perfect ideal for freezing memories you never want to forget. I take several photos, predominantly wild life and a few bugs. I don’t have a nerdy fad for plant life but I snap a few pictures of bizarre ones as well. Once I’m finished cataloguing I shove my camera back into my backpack and swing it over my shoulder.
Daniel’s not far ahead, plucking blueberries and lobbing them in his mouth. I walk through mushy vegetation and slide down a grimy reef. Then I climb over a sizable rock and use the elevated advantage to scan the area. Daniel’s eyes meet my own and he waves excitedly from down below. He’s had his fill of blueberries and slewing pebbles across the water. I step closer to the ledge feeling draughts of water touch my skin from the waterfall. Its gentle touch, more grace than I so deserve.
I jump off the rock and run down to where Daniel’s standing. Our sojourn thus far has been two miles and we have so much more ground to cover before sundown. Saint Rembrandt is an exceptionally big place.
My stomach growls, begging to be satisfied. I’ve been having so much fun exploring I lost track of time.
Daniel reaches into his pocket and pulls out a candy bar as if he heard my stomach’s enraged protest. “You want half?” He asks.
A smile warped merrily upon my face. My stomach ferociously growling needs of being fed as Daniel unwraps the plastic wrapper, exposing the delicious chocolate bar. He breaks it in two and hands the slightly larger one off to me. I sink my teeth into its gooey caramel center and chew. “So where to next?” I ask him.
“The Spirit Temple, then Israel Park’s our last stop.” Daniel munches. I scratch my ear. An earlier thought passes and I dismiss it. Daniel looks me over problematically. “Must you be so predictable?” Daniel sighs cumbersomely.
“What do you mean?”
“You always fiddle with your ears when something’s on your mind.”
I cower behind felonious laughter. “Am I really that predictable?”
“Like all of Caped Crusader’s archenemies.”
“That’s…gosh…that’s pretty darn predictable.” I grieve.
“Boris does that weird frenzy with his eyes, Uncle Micah twitches his nose, Uncle Gavik rubs his chin, and you have the annoying habit of scratching your ears.”
“I just find it easier to think is all.” I splutter defensively.
“Relax.” Daniel reframes, “I’m not gonna claim your soul for being a fidget-wit, but the three of you should never play poker.” We both have ourselves a good snuffle. “So what’s on your mind?” Daniel presses.
“Last night’s dream was horrible.” I tell him.
He takes another bite out of his chocolate bar. “Welcome to my world.” He slurs.
“That’s just it, Daniel, YOU’RE WORLD! NOT MINE! Why can’t you understand that?”
“Arnie.” Daniel jeers. “I couldn’t find him, you know how I feel about sleeping alone.”
“You leave your sanity in the hands of a doll?” I lag.
“Arnie is more than just a doll.” Daniel defends.
“I’m sure he is, Daniel.” I sigh. “But the point I’m trying to make is that you have to start sleeping alone. I don’t like being pulled into your twisted fantasies or having you bombard mine.”
“But I hate sleeping without you or Arnie. Besides, you can’t hurt me, you know?” Daniel mutters innocently.
“I CAN! When I lose control, like at our old house! It took Boris weeks before he okay with us sleeping together again!” I yell and Daniel miserably lowers his gaze.
“How much of it do you remember?” He grimaces.
I shouldn’t have yelled at him but it’s like he never listens to me for his own good. I growl at his large kitten eyes, and reflect. “It was late. I think I was in my room when you came sniffling in. You were obviously upset and I was trying to calm you.” I close my eyes and try to recap the details last night. Daniel’s quivering corps. His whimpers. Blood. The sweet taste of his blood. Delicious…
“…Jasin…” Daniel whispers. “Are…those…”
I open my eyes to a colorless world around me. There are streams of red coming from all sorts of directions. Some pulse faintly and others with intimate desire. Beneath Daniel’s feet lies two pulsing silhouettes, similar to the shades of red indistinct light. They pulse in coexistence with the convulsions of his heartbeat. I run my tongue over my teeth and time nearly stops, my heart beats expeditiously! Are these…
There are 12 wooden pews stacked on both sides of the Clergy Temple, which makes a total of 24. Only a handful of them have shelves on their backs. Most have outlived their purpose. I’m exploring the pulpit, examining chess-like pieces, shuffling them around in no particular order. Mainly to upset the temple’s staff.
When I get tired of rearranging the pieces, I move on to the lectern. There’s a book laid open on it. I flip through a few of the pages then leave it be. It’s written in a language other than English. The Spirit of Earth, a broad green manikin of a fairly moderate man. He stands predominantly, arms folded, eyes glistening like the sun, and wolfen. There’s this sort of settling redolence to him, almost as if staring into the eyes of someone I’ve known my entire life.
“Krohnubis!” Daniel jeers.
I nearly jump out of my shoes. “Jeepers, Daniel! You scared me!”
“Spirit of the Earth.” He reaches up and brushes its pelvic plate. “In the 13th century, it was considered a sign of reverence when a Sakahgi Native warrior stepped into battle with plates such as this. What Americans would acknowledge as Commanding General in their military structure, our ancestors would regard as Elder Primal.”
“And I thought you were all muscle and no brain.” I tease.”
“I’m a lot smarter and stronger than you think.” Daniel winks and strays off towards another statue.