One By One: Free Chapter

Chapter One

Daniel Ross

Daniel drummed his fingers on the bus bench across from Turner Lakes High School. She had forgotten him again. It wasn’t the first time and given the evidence he was sure it wouldn’t be the last. It was his life now. Constantly feeling like an inconvenience to those around him because his parents had been killed in a car crash and he had nowhere else to go. While he was thankful his sister had been able to take him in, he couldn’t help feeling like she wished she hadn’t. Not just because she was always picking him up from school late. It was a culmination of a bunch of little things.
Like how she constantly started sentences with the phrase “Oh, when it was just the four of us.” It may have seemed like nothing to her but to him, it was constant verification that she didn’t want him there. That she longed for the days when he wasn’t around. That he had ruined her life.
He waited twenty more minutes before he decided she was not coming. He sighed. “Another day, same ole shit.” He stood up and threw his backpack over his shoulder. “Two more years,” he whispered to himself.
He would graduate in two more years. The thought always made him feel better when he was sad or irritated. 2 more years and then his life would be his and he could do whatever he wanted with it. 2 years and he wouldn’t have to feel unwanted. 2 more years and he wouldn’t be a burden.
He knew she wasn’t coming. He knew it. The sliver of hope he had evaporated two hours ago when he texted her, and she never responded. At first, he was at the school, and then the janitors started to close up, so he had to leave.
Sunset had come and gone when he moved to the bus bench across from the school. He would have taken the bus, but it wouldn’t have done him any good. It never got closer enough to his house.
Daniel lived in the Hidden, a place that hadn’t fully materialized in the human world. Stuck somewhere between both worlds, it was a beautiful place that only its residents could see.
He had tried to explain it to people, but he didn’t fully understand it himself. Most bus drivers didn’t even want to hear directions on how to get to the Hidden. The Hidden was between worlds, so while it wasn’t fully in the human world, it was fully closed to the other world. The magical place they had come from. A world with no name. Or better yet, a name forgotten. Forgotten by all that had inhabited it. Daniel hadn’t been born, but his grandmother remembered it vividly. While she remembered where she lived and her friends and her daily activities. But the name always escaped her. Whenever she tried to reach for it, it was like water slipping through her fingers. She couldn’t hold on to it. No one could. No one knew the reason for the merge either.
Humans had their own stupid name for it, Faerie. The name didn’t feel right but it was all they had. His grandmother had hated it.
He would sit on a cushion in front of her rocking chair and listen to everything that she could remember. All of her good and bad memories of the place whose name she couldn’t remember. She always felt like she was missing something.
“I remember Niarus,” she would start, “it wasn’t that great. I mean it had some moments, but the Emperor wasn’t a good man. I remember that. But there are some parts that just— I don’t know. There was something…Something happened I just can’t recall what it was.”
He turned up his collar as the evening wind picked up. “Why didn’t I wear a thicker jacket?” he asked himself. He knew this was going to happen. That he would be left outside waiting for a ride that most likely would not show up. He should have planned accordingly. The wind cut through his thin jean jacket, sending a shiver down his spine.
“Sweetie do you need a ride?”
Daniel spun around. A black car had crept up the street beside him. “Ex—what?”
“Do you want a ride? We could take you where you need to go.” A woman with reddish-brown hair sat behind the wheel. Her light brown eyes glanced up to his pointy ears, “Or we could take you as far as possible.” She smiled. It was a warm, kind smile. It almost reminded him of his mother. Or his grandmother on his father’s side. She had kind brown eyes and a warm smile too.
Daniel craned his neck to see the person in the passenger seat, but he couldn’t make out who it was. The woman caught him staring and leaned back. “That’s just my husband. I was just picking him up from work. Do you need a ride?”
He bit his lip. He was waiting for someone. Daniel sighed. She’s not coming. Deep down he knew that. Another cold breeze sliced through him and he shivered. He looked up at the woman and knowing he probably wouldn’t make the long walk in the evening cold he nodded.
“Come on, get in.” She smiled.
Daniel smiled back and walked over to the car door. He slid into the backseat.
“I’m Anora by the way, and this is my husband Arnold.”
“I’m Daniel. Thanks for the ride,” he said as he clicked his seatbelt.
“No problem dear. Where do you live?”
“In the Hidden.”
Her eyes widened. “I thought you might. I’ve had to drop someone off there before, I can get you a mile away. If I remember correctly.”
“That’d be great. Thank you.”
Were you waiting for someone?”
“Yeah. For like six hours.”
“Oh, you poor thing. Did you try calling them? Maybe they got in an accident or something.”
“Nah, I don’t think so. I tried calling her, but she didn’t answer. My sister has been doing this a lot lately. She’s been late to pick me up for a while.”
“Your mother can’t come get you?”
Daniel met Anora’s eyes in the rear-view mirror and shook his head. “She died earlier this year. Car crash killed her and my dad,” he said matter of fact. When he spoke of his parents, he had to keep his tone blunt, or too many emotions would bubble up and take over.
“Oh. Sweetie, I’m so sorry to hear that. Nothing like losing a parent at a young age.”
“Yeah.” Daniel leaned back.
“You live with your sister? That’s good that they allowed her to take you in. Sometimes they don’t. Especially if the sibling isn’t old enough or doesn’t have their life together.”
“She’s married and has two kids of her own, so they let her take me. I don’t think they were happy about it though.”
“Don’t say that. I’m sure they were happy to have you even though it meant an adjustment.”
Daniel shook his head again. “No. They don’t want me there. Can’t even be bothered to pick me up after school. I could disappear tomorrow, and they wouldn’t care.”
“I’m so sorry you feel that way.”
Daniel shivered.
“Are you still cold?”
“A little.”
Anora stopped at a red light. She took a thermos and handed it to Daniel. “Sweetie drink some tea. It’ll warm you up.”
Thank you.” It was warm to the touch. He screwed off the top. A light mist of steam rose into the air. He poured the hot liquid into the top and took a small sip. “It’s good. Thanks.”
“I put honey in my tea. It’s better that way, adds a floral taste.”
Daniel took another sip. And then another and another. He had drunk half the thermos when he felt his body get heavy. Something had a hold of him. The more he tried to move, the heavier his body became. His tongue felt thick and clunky. He tried to talk. The words fumbled from his mouth incoherently. “It’s okay, dear. You get some sleep,” said Anora.
Daniel’s eyes grew heavier as the seconds ticked by. He willed them to stay open, but they couldn’t. He couldn’t fight it. Daniel’s eyes fluttered open. “What?” The words felt like sandpaper against his throat. He rolled onto his side. “Where—” the room slowly came into view. The constant pounding in his head eased as he rested his head on the cool hardwood floor. He closed his eyes for a second and then opened them again. It took a few minutes for the room to stop spinning but when it did, Daniel slowly sat up.
A fog swept across his memory. He remembered a nice woman. And some tea. The hair on his arms stood up. He looked around. He was alone in an empty room. He glanced up, and a door was directly in front of him. He slowly pulled himself to his feet.
He stood there for a second and took a deep breath. Daniel took a step forward and stumbled back. He rested his hands on his knees. The world was spinning around him. He took several breaths as he steadied himself. What happened?
Maybe some fresh air would help. He took small steps toward the door. He placed a hand on the doorknob and stayed there for a moment before opening the door. He stepped outside onto the porch. The rising sun painted the sky orange and purple.
Panic seized him. Daniel spun around. “This isn’t right.” A million questions ran through his head, and he couldn’t answer any of them. What is this? Where am I? He frantically looked around. He stepped down from the porch onto a gravel path. He followed it, moving further and further away from the house. The path led to a lake. He leaned over and stared at his reflection in the calm water. He looked the same. He wasn’t beaten up or bloody. Nothing was different about him only he couldn’t remember how he had gotten here. Or where here was. It wasn’t the Hidden, he knew that.
His mind raced. How did he get here? Why was he here? He glanced around at his surroundings. The house seemed to be the only one in the area. The only house next to the lake. Where was he? Daniel tried to replay the events of the night before, but all he could barely remember was a nice woman and a thermos of tea.
A scream cut through the silence. He nearly jumped out of his skin. It came from the house. What if someone was hurt? Daniel debated on whether to go back or not. Maybe he was safer outside. What if someone else was there and could help him? What if they needed help?
“I should go back,” he said. Although in his head, it was more of a question than a statement. But his feet started moving towards the house anyway. Slowly. Cautiously he walked back to the house.
He eased the door open. Daniel took two steps in before falling to his knees. Blood. Puddles of blood pooled together. It twisted around itself and formed a ball. The ball rolled back and forth until it came to a stop a few feet away from Daniel.
His eyes wide with shock, his body shaking, Daniel willed his legs to move. But they wouldn’t obey. Fear had seized him, and he couldn’t shake it.
The ball of blood turned back into a puddle, and then something reached out from the middle. Slowly two arms stretched up, and then a head popped out. Slowly, inch by inch, the body worked its way out of the puddle. Or she was the puddle. Daniel couldn’t tell. It seemed like she was made from the blood. She came from it. He looked down at the floor. As the body grew, the puddle got smaller and smaller until it was just a few drops. The blood wasn’t on her skin, it was her skin. It was her body. Her dress. Her hair. She was shiny and crimson and smiling.
She waved at him. A chain of blood clots hung from her fingertips.
“Welcome home, Daniel.” Her voice was soft. Almost playful. “I am the spirit of this house, and I will kill you. Until then, enjoy your stay.”

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