The principal slammed his hand on the table. “No,” he spat. “Shut up young man, you’re expelled!”
Alex stared at him and blinked. The words seemed to echo in his ears. “You—you can’t expel me,” he said dumbly. “I’m unexpellable. My grandmother—”
The man straightened with a deepening scowl. “The school doesn’t care about your grandmother’s donations or her corporation’s deep pockets. This is about principles, young man, principles! Double standards can’t be allowed—”
“It was fine until now,” Alex whined. “I barely have five tickets—”
Principal Paul snorted. “Five. You only have five? This is a private school. The rules apply to all its students without exception.”
“No,” Alex sputtered. “No, I—”
“No exceptions,” the man said and folded his arms. “I’ll have you rest on your family’s laurels no longer, Mister Mulholland. The influence of your relations only goes so far. This expulsion will prove immediate. From this moment on, you are no longer a member of this school, and are therefore no longer permitted on—”
“I—I own you!” Alex snapped, pointing a shaking finger as he stood. He placed his hand on his chest and lifted his chin with a false sense of self-importance. The principal looked on from behind his wide desk, unimpressed. “My grandmother’s given this school a lot of donations,” the youth boasted. “That’s money three times your salary. Three!” He waved the fingers for emphasis and narrowed his eyes. “I’m a Mulholland. Unlike everyone else, I pay twice—no, three times my dues. I think you need to show some respect.”
A chuckle lifted into a mirthless laugh. “You pay?” the man said. He fixed the boy with a sordid gaze. “No,” he shook his head. “You pay nothing. You make nothing. You’re only a student, and being a student isn’t a job. But your grandmother? Yes, she pays dearly for your little prick to stay in this prestigious—”
“If you know that old man, then you’d also know that I was only ten miles over when the cops clocked me,” Alex said with a defensive nod. “I slowed down.”
“Slowed down?” the principal repeated. “You slowed down to going ten over?” He leaned back with a huff of a laugh. Running a hand through his dark grey hair, he turned his gaze out the window before returning it to the boy. “Do you have any idea why you’re in my office or as to why you were arrested?”
“I was stupid enough to stop at a red light,” Alex said with a straight face. “And you were dumb enough to call me in here. Do you know what my grandmother could do to your career?”
A small smile played over the older man’s lips and reaching out, the principal grabbed the student by the collar. Putting his hands to his neck with a choke, Alex gagged as the man jerked him in close. His nose wrinkled at the tobacco on the headmaster’s breath. “Listen here, you pampered pretentious little—”
“Get—get your hands of me!” the blond squawked. Shoving his hand in the man’s face, he flailed out of his grasp. Miffed and bewildered, he gave the principal a frightened stare. “You can’t grab me! It’s against the rules—”
“And what do you know about rules?”
Betraying the utmost caution, Alex stepped back. With his courage shot, he leaned on his pride as he cleared his throat. “I—”
“Street racing, driving without a license, performing tricks on the street—”
“They’re called wheelies,” the youth corrected.
“I won’t say it again Alex,” the fat man said, scooting around his desk. “You’re expelled. Finished. Out of my school!”
“No,” the student protested and balled his fists. “I’m not. My grandmother—”
“Get out of my office!” The man snarled. “Or would you rather be dragged out by security?”
Darting forward, Alex snatched his helmet off the coffee table and tucked it protectively under his arm. “I’d like to see you try. Call them and I’ll see you in court for an assault charge.”
“Assault?” Paul sputtered, red-faced. “Assault you say?” He looked back and picked up his coffee mug.
Alex smirked as he watched the headmaster’s fingers redden around the cups handle. “What’re you gonna do? Throw—”
He ducked with a yell as the mug left the man’s hand. Jumping as it shattered behind him, Alex looked up with a start and scrambled away as the man made a grab for him. Eyes wild, he reached out for the door and yanked it open, slipping out before the principal could catch him. He glanced back and booked it down the hall as the headmaster followed him out behind.
“That’s right, Mulholland!” the man called after him, putting a hand on his heaving side halfway through the corridor. “Get out of my school!”
Flattening a bed of flowers, Alex stepped onto the academy’s freshly cut grass. Conversation filled the air as dozens of students brushed by one another on the sidewalk in two opposing lanes. Stopping before them, he looked on before sneaking a cautious glance behind him.
“What are you looking for?” a voice asked. Alex snapped his eyes back with a start. His friend grinned, dark eyes twinkling as he punched him in the shoulder. “Did you get chewed out by Fat Paul?”
“Shut up,” Alex said, looking away as he placed his helmet on his shoulder. “That old fart doesn’t know yet what’s coming for him.”
Matthew raised an eyebrow. “What? Did he expel you or something?”
Giving him a withering look, Alex brushed past him. “I can’t be expelled. It’s impossible. Don’t you know how much the Mulholland Corporation is worth? A principal that barks today will be gone tomorrow, it’s the same with any lackey, no exceptions. He’s gonna learn today.”
Keeping in step beside him, Matthew laughed. “Is that how you got expelled from your last school?”
“I didn’t get expelled,” the blond said flatly. “I moved. My parents—”
“Whatever,” Matthew said. “You don’t need to lie with a cover story to me.”
Alex stopped and lowered his helmet from his shoulder as his friend broke off from the lane of students headed for the parking lot. Matthew slowed and looked back. “What is it?”
My parents, Alex thought with distant eyes. My parents died.
“Yo, Alex come on man,” Matthew called impatiently. “School’s out. Let’s move.”
The blonde forced a smile. “Yeah.”
His friend knocked his knuckles on Alex’s helmet as he neared and made a face. “Is this what you’re planning to do all summer?” he asked. “Ride around?”
Alex moved his helmet underneath his other arm. “Yeah, why?”
Matthew rolled his eyes. “Dude, like seriously, don’t you ever get tired of your bike?”
“No.” Alex said and stepped away, he gave his friend a reproachful look. “Don’t you ever get tired of getting dumped?”
Matthew flashed a cocky smile. “Girls love me.”
Lean yet muscular with tightly curled hair and a magnetic charisma behind his dark chocolate eyes, he was the reigning quarterback of the football team. Cool and confident, he was a player of broken hearts. Girls fell off and on his arm like dress ties, people flocked about him like flies and passing report cards seemed to be handed to him like candy. He was what Alex would never be, a straight cut, exemplary student. At least, it was how he appeared. Beside him, all others seemed mere accessories to his popularity.
“Girls love to hate you,” Alex said as he passed between two hedges and ducked under a low hanging tree.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a player,” Matthew said, following along behind. “Girls throw themselves at me like—”
“You have a lack of morals,” Alex interrupted.
Matthew grinned. “But, I get laid.” He countered, moving a comb through his curls.
Alex stopped and looked back at him. “You—”
“Ah, shut up,” Matthew said, putting a hand in his pocket. “Summer is the season for chasing skirts, not being ran down by flashing police cars.” He nodded. “I think you should get a girlfriend.”
Alex pushed up a low hanging tree branch and let it snap back as Matthew tried to pass under. Leaves flew into the air as the branch whipped to smack his friend in the face. A slick smile swiftly curved across the blonds lips. “Are you still talking?” He asked, walking on. “Let me put it to you this way Matt. Girls are a hassle.” Alex began, giving a side glance to a couple of brunettes chatting away on a bench. “I’d rather be chased down by the cops any day than deal with such drama.”
“Heartless bastard,” Matthew muttered and pushed his way after him through the box of hedges. “Women are life.”
Pausing, Alex’s eyes zipped to their corners. “You’re an idiot.”
“Ha,” Matthew said. “You would say that, you spaz. At least, I’m not the one who gets pulled over on a regular basis. How do you still have your license again?”
Matthew stared at him. “What?”
Alex shrugged. “They took it from me after I was arrested.” He laughed. “I still managed to get it back from the impound lot though.”
“Oh, like that’s a relief.”
“How are you going to get home? Do you want my butler to drive you to the airport? Your grandparents live in California right?”
Alex raised a hand. “No need, they own a summer home in the area.”
“Oh, so you want me to—”
“No,” Alex snapped. “I got my bike. I can drive.”
Matthew raised an eyebrow. “Without a license? Are you insane?”
“Laws were meant to be broken,” Alex joked. “Besides, how do you think I got to school this morning?”
“You’re an idiot,” Matthew muttered, placing a palm over face.
Alex waved a hand and turned away. “Who cares?”
Matthew wasn’t smiling. “Alex,” he said, suddenly serious, “you’re going to get yourself kicked out of school.”
“Like it’s worth my time,” Alex muttered. A hand grabbed his arm before he stepped off the curb. “Get off me,” he protested, breaking his friend’s grip. Matthew stared at him with almost a concerned expression.
“You do know you have to pass high school to get your inheritance, right?” he asked.
“I know,” Alex said, looking away. “I don’t need you to tell me.”
“I just can’t imagine where’d you end up without it,” Matthew continued. “Your grades suck, you always end up copying off of me—chicks don’t dig that stuff. Without your money, you’re just a—”
Alex lifted his helmet. “Chill,” he said. “Don’t be talking to me like some trumped up nerd.”
“Fine,” Matthew said and stepped back. “I just thought—”
“Yeah,” Alex interrupted. His eyes were cold. “Anyway, I have some things I need to get off my mind, so today I’ll just be cruising.”
“Whatever man,” Matthew said, turning. “It’s your life. You’re going to do what you want anyway. Just don’t get hit by a car. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” Alex replied, watching him go. Tucking his helmet back under his arm, he stepped off the curve and into the parking lot. Slipping between two cars, he skirted around the hood of another vehicle to where he’d parked his motorcycle. Setting his helmet on his bike’s gas tank, he stuck his key into the ignition. Feeling the vehicle rumble to life beneath his hand, Alex straddled it and revved the throttle. A glossy ebony black, the motorcycle’s dark coat gleamed like wet tar in the sun’s rays. Putting a hand over the reflection, he could see in the vehicle’s paint. The blond pulled on his helmet and backed the bike out into the road.
Clear for takeoff, he thought and snapped his visor down. Feeling the eyes of bystanders, he revved the engine once more and picking up his feet, screeched out of the parking lot, leaving a streak of smoke and rubber behind. Leaning forward, the familiar thrill of going from zero to sixty bolted through him in a rush as he flew down the street adjacent to his school. He hugged the sides of the bike with his legs and pulled the front tire into the air, wheelieing. Merging into the highway traffic, what began as a clear day twisted out of the weatherman’s sunny prediction. Dark clouds banded together in large clumps across the sky. Reaching the sun, the gloomy mass smothered its rays and put out its early summer light in an overshadowing depression. No sooner did the clouds cover the sky, did they release the first drops of a downpour. The shower swiftly rendered the road slick and shining with water in seconds.
Alex blinked. Squinting through his fogging visor, he veered off sharply into another lane, missing the headlights of a car by a hair. A fog of steam blew up behind him as he twisted the throttle further. Numbers flew on the speedometer out the corner of his eye and hurtling down asphalt, he weaved in and out of traffic like a snake, darting in-between cars with split second decisions.
“Woohoo!” He yelled and leaned in as his speedometer passed into the triple digits. “Freedom!”
Tilting his head back, he looked up and watched the puffs of clouds pass along overhead. He breathed in, then out. The smell of rain was in the air, gasoline and diesel filled his nose, the rush of traffic, the dexterity of his bike, the adrenaline in his blood—he could feel it all. He was hyperaware; the intrinsic flight of fear, the absence of worry. Freedom.
He chose to ride, and the choice was his. He felt connected. His tires raced along the ground, rotating more times than he could count as they cut through the rain on the road. His motorcycle was his link, the sole thing in life that made him feel alive. When he was on it, he mattered. All else, was a test of his endurance, an effort to hide behind a mask. On the hardened tar, he could go faster than everyone else, accelerate quicker and change gears with only the flick of his foot.
The rain created a rainbow of oily water along the side of the highway. The liquid danced into an alluring melting pot of color which ebbed and flowed as Alex flew by. Speeding through a curve, his motorcycle sliced through a gathered puddle. Leaning into another, the teen dragged knee. He resisted the urge to jerk back as a splash of liquid sprayed into his visor. The cars flew past him like graffitied walls of a bad neighborhood. Creative, different and ever changing, he watched them as one would a TV screen; forever on the edge of his seat. They were unpredictable. Some turned with sudden signals, others without. The road was as volatile as it was beautiful. It was his path, it belonged to him. A constant, stable paradise of tarmac which it seemed to stretch on forever into a dark horizon.
Racing along at triple the speed limit, Alex taunted the threat of a felony. If caught, his penalty would not end at a simple fine for his grandmother to pay, it would be jail and lots of it. Even so, he’d never felt so alive. He was entranced in the thrill and rode without effort, experienced without thought. His eyes widened, and time seemed to slow to seconds, as a red car signaled into his lane. Panicking, he pulled back the throttle instinctively. A mistake which only increased his speed.
Metal crumpled. The front wheel of his bike popped as it smashed into the back of the car. He felt the sharp snap of bones following the impact which exploded into a moment of pure agony. His hands left the handlebars and he flipped over the car. Striking asphalt headfirst like a ragdoll, red flashed into his vision as the plastic of his helmet cracked, and skull bruised from the impact. Fabric tore, bone shattered, and hardened tar peeled his skin from flesh and bone as he tumbled across the stretch of road as if he were a practice dummy. Inertia letting him go, allowed his momentum to stop. Leaving what remained of him, to be rained on.
He was a lonely figure on a road fraught with cars. A vehicle skidded on the road, out of control. Headlights flashed into view, bearing down upon him. Thunder boomed, and lightning streaked overhead as tires screeched with the brakes too late. Barely conscious, his breath caught in his throat and single tear trickled from his eyes as he closed them, fearing for the worst.
There was no impact.
Just darkness… Then a rush of air. Alex felt his body drop. He was falling. Airborne for what felt like minutes; he hit the earth head first. His neck snapped. All the air he had, was expelled as blood flooded into his throat. He sputtered, choking on it; the fall had ruptured his trachea. His body convulsed in writhing spasms starved of oxygen. Tears streamed from his eyes as he stared out pitifully into the darkness while his fingers curled through naught but sand.
Splintered bone, caked with blood and sand jutted out from the flesh that was once his shin. His left arm burned and lay twisted and disfigured at his side, crooked an irregular angle. It was broken as was his wrist along with more than a couple bent and bloody fingers. Many parts of his body oozed blood freely, skinned and raw from the road. Alex was like a broken doll, discarded, mutilated and waiting for death.
Gurgling, he blinked rapidly through blurred vision. It was all he could do and besides the numb movement of a few fingers was the extent of his functional ability. There, splayed out on a blanket of sand within the black dimension he screamed in his mind, blue in the face and drowning in his lifeblood. Tufts of his once ear length sandy blond hair were missing, leaving patches of bald spots behind. What remained, was a gorrish image of his designer haircut. Blood lent the light color a sicking new dye while a mix of it and rainwater plastered the rest to his head in an ungodly parody of a Halloween costume. He’d once been handsome and dashing with a devilish smile and a face attractive enough to model and sculpt. The helmet had kept most of his face intact, however; he was no longer pretty. Red trickled down between his pine green eyes, over his crooked nose and down to his busted lips.
Just as his vision began to darken and body still, slowly the sand began to sink. Tugging him down, it pulled him under, swallowing him whole. He tightened his closed eyes against the piling sand. It ebbed and flowed around him with a mind of its own, eating away his clothes like acid, it dismembered his helmet. Clearing his throat of clotted blood, restructured his trachea, and realigned his neck. Going on to straighten his arm, wrist and fingers, it scabbed over and healed his road rash. Seeping into skin, it weaved through muscle, reconnecting broken blood vessels and knitting together shattered bone. With its work finished, the magical substance pushed him to the surface, spitting him out.
Alex rolled over with a gasp and started hacking. Nauseous, disoriented and feeling somewhat violated, his skin was sensitive to the touch. It was raw and pink like a baby’s. His throat burned but it was nothing compared to the scalding agony of before. His body ached where bone had aligned and refused. It was like he’d survived a deep scrub rather than death and quicksand. He ran his fingers along his neck and sighed, relieved—grateful to be alive yet, he could see nothing. He was engulfed by a sea of blackness. For a moment, he pondered if he was even alive. Was this the afterlife?
He was whole, healed and—utterly confused. The sand had healed him so completely that he was almost inclined to write off previous experience as a simple nightmare. He wanted to. He rose unsteadily, stumbled and fell to his knees. A dull throbbing pulsed through his healed shin and his attempt to stand proving futile, he began to crawl. He jerked back with a jolt as his hands sunk into sand. Would he be pulled under once again?
He anticipated the worst for a long moment and when it didn’t happen, he brushed his hands on his torso and rose again. This time he stood more surely. He took a tentative step forward, probing the ground with his foot, testing it for pockets that threatened to pull him under again. Nothing happened. No movement, no rustle nor sound.
Being swallowed was probably just a one-time thing, he thought. Maybe it just heals things and steals clothes?
Even as he convinced himself and started moving forward, Alex couldn’t help the tension he felt with every step. The sand slid between his toes, he walked amongst a plane devoid of wind, life or things. The progress he made felt trivial, as he felt his next steps went no further than his last. He didn’t know where he was going, couldn’t see the path he walked. Even his unclothed body and the fingers of his hands were hidden from sight. He walked through the darkness, a blind man.
Why? He thought as knot of panic unfurled within him. Why can’t I still see anything? He stopped and looked over his shoulder. Where the hell am I? Outside or in? Where is the light? If it’s night, where’s the moon? The stars? Since when was the world always so dark? Are my eyes just closed somehow?
He blinked and cursed.
“I have to get out of here,” he muttered to himself. It was eerie, listening to voice which faded into nothingness. It was if he’d never spoken. Like a tree which fell in a forest with no one to hear. Other than his breathing, it was dead silent. A chill ran down his back and with it, a sense of paranoia. Alex turned, looking this way and that. The pestering feeling of being watched lingered at the back of his mind, yet still nothing. Did he conjure the feeling from loneliness or was there really something out there beyond his sight, lurking in the darkness? Never in his life had he been more aware of himself or his heartbeat. The solitude was overwhelming.
Swallowing, he again began to walk for there was nothing else for him to do. If he did nothing, if he stayed put; where would he go but nowhere? There has to be an exit somewhere. There always was…wasn’t there?
From stumbling to jogging to blindly running to madly dashing this way then that, he dragged his feet onward, clutching his naked form. He was alone with not a soul to validate his existence.
I must be dead, he thought. The quicksand must’ve been an illusion. A gateway to hell. He licked his lips, they were cracked, he was thirsty. If he was alive, he figured he would die within days from dehydration.
“I died,” he said to himself. “I’m dead. I died. I’m dying. I’m dead and dying. I must be all three. Died, dead and dying. That car killed me. It crushed my head with its tires.” He stopped and laughed hollowly. “No, I killed myself.”
Wandering for what felt like hours, Alex froze as his pupils dilated.
“Light,” he said astounded.
Squinting, he caught the faintest glimpse of light and color. A fuzzy, purple sliver of light shone out like a tiny spark amidst the darkness, poking through it like a hole. A thread of hope for the lost, the light was a chink in the blackness. It held steady and constant like a little moon in the armor of the eternal night.
“Please,” Alex begged releasing a breath. “Please, please, please be there!” He gasped and stumbled into a desperate run. “Be there. Don’t abandon me!”
The light expanded rapidly with his approach, from a sliver to a floodlight trapped behind a rippling purple surface resembling a wall of stained glass. Slowing to a walk, breathing hard, Alex reached out for it with a tentative hand. He touched its slick glassy surface and pulled back as if burned. It was ice cold.
“What is this?” He wondered aloud, tapping it with a finger. “Some kind of barrier?”
An ever-shifting purple powdery milk like substance swirled within the wall, its various shades ranged from deep violets to gentle lilac, soft lavender and dark plum. The barrier seemed to be illuminated by something behind it, a brilliant otherworldly light. It was like the rays of a sun shining through a stained window.
Is this even real? He thought running his palm along its smooth surface. Staring at it for a moment, he pressed his hand against it, pushing on it. Maybe it was a portal. It had to lead to somewhere. He glanced at the dark void behind him and leaned closer to the barrier of light. He couldn’t go back. He couldn’t. If he did…he’d go insane. However, neither could he sit here outside it like a lost dog waiting for a door to open. He’d found the needle in the haystack, the light in the dark. The trick laid in getting to the other side. Everything had a weak point. Adding his other hand, he stepped back into a lunge and pressed harder.
I’ll just have to break through, Alex thought.
Retreating a few steps, he charged. Closing his eyes, he threw his shoulder into the wall and touched, nothing. Opening his eyes, his body dropped. Flailing, a scream left him as he plummeted. He fell over the sparkling blue water of a lake, like a stone in the breeze. The glass was but an illusion and he, the fool. His fate it seemed, was death by drowning.