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Jayden Howles is a nineteen-year-old Computer Science student, and hobbyist writer, attending Riverton College.
One night, he stumbles across an injured beggar who offers him a mysterious book in exchange for his goodwill. The only problem is the book is unwritten. All of that changes when he decides to pen a few pages of his new fantasy story idea in the book, and it sucks him into the story.
Now, Jayden must complete the story by living and surviving through it, in order to find his way back to his world. All the while, hoping that his actions in the book have not changed anything in the real world.
Chapter One: Beggars in Stormy Nights
The cool evening breeze whistled at the world around it, its mouth, the surrounding trees’ leaf edges. The wind was a songstress.
The breeze picked up, effortlessly plucking a few leaves from their branches. Their colors were a warm blend of light green, yellow, orange and brown. The breeze twirled and spun and the leaves spun with it, producing a vibrant display. The wind was an artist.
Two figures walked along the cobblestoned path, lined with trees that danced in the autumn breeze. The one in front walked at a brisk pace, with her head tilted down. Her dirty blonde hair sprouted out from underneath a colorfully knitted winter cap, and fell like a golden curtain over her back. Her blonde hair contrasted well with the red jacket she wore and her black gloves could just be made out of her blue jean's side pockets, as she had them tucked in. Trendy and fluffy black boots completed her get up.
Even though it was still autumn, the temperature had plummeted in recent days, and the wind was bitingly cold. Winter’s approach remained steady, and the cold grip on the land slowly got stronger with each passing day.
A soft thud broke through the wind’s artistic symphony, and for a moment, nature appeared to momentarily stop and observe those who would dare interrupt her display. The wind had died down.
“Ow.” The young teenager said as he got up to his feet, rubbing his nose.
“Could you watch where you’re going, Susan?” He shot playful daggers at the blonde.
“Me? What were you daydreaming about this time?” Susan shot back, with pouted lips.
“Here. Let me see.” She closed the distance between them, and lightly tapped on the young man’s nose.
“Ow! Just leave it.”
Susan was giggling.
“Jayden, you are such a wuss. You literally just bumped into me. You can’t possibly break your nose that way.”
“After running into a face packed with ten layers of makeup, what do you expect?”
The giggles abruptly stopped.
Jayden’s throaty laughter took over the honored role of interrupting mother nature’s symphony. He laughed as he ran faster in a bid to escape Susan’s clawing fingers. Eventually, both panting teenagers were walking side by side, towards the S. Moore science building.
“So… what were you daydreaming about? A new… book?” Susan said, between pants.
Jayden nodded, taking deep breaths as well.
“What’s it about?”
“It’s not all clear yet,” Jayden explained. “I’ll probably flesh it out tonight, after hanging out with the boys. It’s Mike’s birthday.”
“Oh yeah. The weird one.” Susan made a funny face.
“The one and only. You changed your mind about coming?”
They got to the flight of steps leading up to the building’s entrance before stopping and facing each other. The S. Moore science building was a two-story structure, complete with red brickwork, white-rimmed arched windows, and doors. It was home to ten classrooms and four faculty offices, making it the second biggest building in the small Riverton College.
“Time to get through this boring Chem lab.” Jayden sighed.
“I swear you’re in the wrong major.” Susan shook her head.
“Writing’s just a hobby. Can’t pay the bills. So… I code.”
Jayden shrugged and wiggled his eyebrows eliciting another giggling fit.
“See you later tonight?” Susan asked, looking at him in that weird way that always tied up his stomach in knots.
As Susan walked off, Jayden pulled up his white jacket’s zipper and pulled the hoodie over his medium length brown hair. As he walked up the stairs, he felt a hand rest on his right shoulder. Jayden turned to see his friend, Leon, lazily chewing a gum—as usual.
“Hey man.” Jayden said casually.
“Hey, bro. When are you going to take that girl seriously?” Leon asked in his distinct Hispanic-accented English.
Jayden looked at him. Leon had his jet-black hair so gelled up, you could see through the bunched-up strands straight to the scalp. He wore a blue jock’s jacket complete with blue pencil jeans and white trainers, with blue highlights around the soles. Leon was anything but a jock. However, Jayden had long identified a need to fit in in his friend. It made for silent entertainment. You never knew what Leon Cortez was going to turn up in next.
“I have no idea what you mean.” Jayden glanced away.
“Sure, you don’t.” Leon laughed. “You are the shiest guy on the planet, you know that? You have it so good with a girl all the other guys, including yours truly” Leon pointed to himself “would kill for. Yet, you won’t go in for the kill.”
“It’s not a kill, Leon.” Jayden replied, emphasizing kill.
“Oh, whatever. You know what I mean. Just tell her how you feel. You know she wants you, but for how long? The wolves are hunting.”
“Fine, fine. I’ll tell her tonight after I get back from Mike’s birthday party.”
“Mike’s having a birthday party?”
“Yeah. We… put together a little something for him.” Jayden shrugged. “You coming?”
“I wouldn’t miss seeing a Mike birthday party for the world. He’s like the geek that makes other geeks look good. You know what I mean?”
“Yeah, I get you.”
They got to the front of a white door with a gold bordered label on it that read CHEMISTRY LAB.
“So, you’ll tell me how the Susan thing goes? Later?” Leon asked.
“Yeah. Much later. Now get in. Dr. Goodwin’s coming.” Jayden hissed.
Dr. Goodwin was known to be one of the strictest professors in Riverton College. One quality she valued above all else, was promptness. If a student came late to any of her classes or labs, they would be locked out and promptly docked five points from their total possible score. Every science student knew the consequences of persistent tardiness and tried their best to be seated at their desk before she stepped inside. She usually gave a grace period of ten minutes. Jayden and Goodwin were in minute nine. They got to their lab table and put on their jackets right before she stepped inside. The entire lab room fell silent. Dr. Goodwin’s piercing gaze swept across the room, landing on each student’s face. With her dark rimmed spectacles and black hair swept back in a bun, she looked more like a middle school teacher than a college professor. When she was satisfied, she spoke in a plastic voice, devoid of emotion.
“Turn to lab 8 and begin. No discussions with your partners on anything other than the lab. No inter-team discussions. You have forty-five minutes.”
With that, Dr. Goodwin stepped out. The buzz returned, and the students got to work.
The night was a cold and wet one. The gentle autumn wind had become a fierce fall storm, sweeping up sheets of the drizzling rain and spraying it on metal, concrete, and skin with indifference. A lone figure ran along the sidewalk fading into the yellow wash of a street lamp, before fading back into the darkness, once more. Suddenly the world was awash with white light. It streaked across the raging skies, followed closely by the crashing crackle of thunder.
The light had been distracting, and yet revealing at the same time. The hooded figure caught sight of the gruesome shadows rushing in towards him. The movements were quick and too inhumanly fast for the eyes to see. The shadows were akin in shape and form to a grim reaper. They closed in from both sides, seemingly moving through physical objects as they did. A clinking sound was heard. It was quickly followed by a soft thud. The hooded figure had glided—there was no other word for how the figure moved—behind one of the shadows and impaled it with a dagger. Another thud. The figure was behind the second shadow, just as its image dissolved into nothingness, along with the first. The second shadow vanished as well.
Yet another thud, followed by a shrill scream. The hooded figure leaped into the darkness of the night, just as more shadows rushed in on its former location. A trail of blood glistened on the sidewalk. One of the shadows bent down and tasted it with a pale finger that emerged from the black mass. Skin crawling whispers emanated within the shadows, and they too leaped off in various directions, some going in the direction the hooded figure had gone before.
Jayden leaned against the light beige colored wall of the living room, playing an MMOG on his phone. He watched as Leon, Mike, and a few other guys played Halo 5 together. To his right was a table where they had set up jugs of spiked orange juice and Kool-Aid. There were also various chips and dips on the table. Another friend of theirs was busy grilling outside. Party music blared from surround sound speakers, but no one was dancing to them. There were no girls—even though they had been invited. It didn’t surprise Jayden much though. None of them were remotely popular and the campus girls could care less about attending any one of their parties.
That’s what made Susan such a mystery to him. She was one of the popular girls and yet she preferred to spend her time with him. It didn’t make sense. She even showed up for his birthday party, last month. That visit had made him the coolest geek on campus. At first, he thought she was getting close to him for his intellect. However, after being friends with Susan for a year, he knew she could more than hold her own. Jayden had tried to fit in any other theory except the one that scared him the most. Susan was more than just a college crush. They’d been friends for a year, but Jayden had known her much longer than that. The fear was not so much being rejected, but letting go of the fleeting hope he had, in exchange for the truth.
Jayden shook his head and composed the text message he’d been struggling with, all day. He hit send and took a deep breath. He’d never asked this of her before. The location was also symbolic. Everyone in Riverton knew a guy only asked a girl to go there with him if he was into her.
She’ll probably laugh at me. Oh God, what have I done?
As a wave of panic tore through him, he heard a shrill scream pierce through the dead of the night.
“Did you guys hear that?” Jayden asked, pushing away from the wall he’d been leaning on and walking over to the windows. He pushed down the blinds and peered through them.
“Hear what? Jayden, slow down on the drinks man.” Leon quipped.
His friends erupted in laughter around him, but Jayden was barely paying them any attention. His heart was thumping as he watched the hooded figure who’d just landed—there was no better word to describe it—in their front yard. The figure painfully walked—limped—to a lit part of the street opposite the house, and sat by a beggar, near the refuse dump, clutching its stomach. Jayden watched as the hooded figure seemed to change. It was subtle, but Jayden thought he saw the hands grow wrinkled and a white shaggy beard he couldn’t make out before. Had he really had too much to drink?
Jayden nearly jumped out of his skin as he turned around.
“What’s the matter, man? You’re spacing out.” Leon asked.
Jayden did not say a word. He merely looked at him with a wide-eyed expression.
“I… I gotta go.”
Jayden pushed past the guys and made a beeline for the exit.
“Jayden!” Mike yelled as Jayden opened the door and thrust himself into the storm.
The wind howled and ruffled his hair, as sheets of moisture slapped his left cheek, stinging his eye. Jayden whipped the hood of his white jacket, over his head and wiped a sheen of water off his face. He jogged towards the beggar, stealing a quick glance at both sides of the street as he crossed. The rain had given the refuse bin a wet dog smell that elicited a nauseating feeling in Jayden. He spat on the street as he got close to the beggar.
“Um… are you… alright?” He asked nervously.
The beggar did not respond. He clutched his abdomen and Jayden could clearly see a blood-stained book pressing on an open wound. Maybe he was drunk. This injured beggar couldn’t have fallen from the sky.
“O….kay. I’m gonna go get some first aid from my friends.”
The cold hand snapped around Jayden’s wrist, in a vice-like grip.
“What the… Dude! Let go of me!!”
Jayden wasn’t sure if it was the fear, but the more he struggled, the weaker he felt.
“Let… me… go!”
He heard the beggar’s soft exhalation of breath. It sounded like a million voices, all at once.
“Okay… That’ll do for now.” The beggar said as he let Jayden go.
Jayden fell to the ground and turned around just in time to see the beggar get to his feet. He was tall and completely clad in a black robe with a hood over his dark features. The robe fell all the way to his feet, barely revealing the shiny leather surface of his boots. The beggar’s eyes were a bronze color that almost glowed in the dark.
How did I miss that?
“Young one. Do you mind taking me away from here in your car?”
“Please. I don’t have much time.”
“Um… where do you wanna go?” Jayden asked unsure of if he would eventually help the beggar.
“Your neighborhood perhaps? People live there. People with coin and wealth. It’ll be more profitable for me there.”
There was a strangeness in the way he spoke. For a beggar, his voice was filled with authority and a certain level of arrogance. His choice of words was also quite… Shakespearean. Jayden didn’t know why, but there was also a ring of honesty to his words.
He brought out his car keys and tapped a button. A silver Toyota Camry chirped twice with the signal and head lights flashing just as many times.
He arched his head towards the car and quickly started towards it, happy to get out of the soaking rain. The beggar was not too far behind. Once they were inside, Jayden turned on the heat and eased out of the parking lane, with his heart thrumming at a million miles per minute. His mind kept going back to what he’d seen of the beggar. The drop from the sky, the injury, the energy draining moment, the half glowing eyes, and finally, that bloodied book he held onto for dear life.
It’s nothing. Drop him off somewhere and head on home. It’s nothing and none of your business.