His boots hammered the broken trailer-park road, beating its lifeless bones. I forced my shorter legs to match his stride. At eighteen, Samuel was just one year older than me, but he'd inherited our father's height and broad shouldered strength, while I remained small and lean, more like our mother. Samuel's current warpath was not a rare occurrence. He often favored brute force to bulldoze his way through the world, leaving me to clean up after him. Our Father had always said that between strength of arm and strength of mind, the latter was more important. I only hoped that this time, my mind would be quick enough to prevent my brother from creating a mess I couldn't fix.
"Samuel, wait." My voice shook in a half whisper. "You can't do this, man!"
He stalked ahead, shouldering through the November chill as it clung to our clothing and showed our breath.
"Come on! Lara's my sister too. I want this guy dead as much as you do, but you know what this will do to us."
The sound of our voices disappeared into the vacant night, seeking distance from the coming confrontation. The moon and stars hid themselves as well. Stale lamplight filtered through the windows of the sagging mobile homes around us, offering only a hint of the road's cracked surface. Samuel didn't seem to mind the dark. His feet never faltered as he charged ahead to cause our family's doom.
I hunched my shoulders, burying my chin deeper in my dark blue hoodie and folding my arms against the chill. The cold never was my friend. I'd spent my entire life in the Northern Midwest, shivering my way through brutal winters. Samuel, like our Father, had always seemed right at home in the cold, the two of them happy to traipse off into the wilderness, hunting some poor creature or climbing some natural landmark that may just as well have been left alone. I, on the other hand, have always preferred a cozy seat next to a warm fire, curled up with a good book and a hot drink. The fact that I was out in the cold at all was a good indicator of the seriousness of our predicament.
My brother had to be stopped.
"We should just go to the police," I tried, "let them handle it. I'm sure Trent already has a record. If we just let the authorities do their job —"
"There are higher authorities than the police, Jonas. Trent is not getting off with a slap on the wrist from a juvenile court. Not after what he did to our sister."
"Okay, but if Dad were here —"
"Dad's not here!"
His cool blue eyes lit up with a brutal fury, burning behind the dark, almost black hair that hung in thin waves from his head. He faced me, large hands gripping my shoulders. I'd gotten him to stop, but now his attention drilled into me.
I liked it better when he was pointed at Trent.
"Dad would say the safety of our family comes first." I worked to keep the panic out of my voice. "We fight together, we run together —"
"We survive together." Samuel finished. "I know. You want to talk to me about safety? How safe was Lara when that animal was beating her with fists?"
I saw it again in that part of my mind where horrors hide: Lara, bloodied and ashamed, limping through the front door. Anger rose from my gut. My head filled with clouds of hate and my hands clenched into fists at my sides.
The asphalt vibrated beneath my feet, dirt and pebbles bouncing against my shoes. The air around us crackled with power as it rose from within me and rushed from my body in time with my pounding heartbeat.
I took a slow breath.
I had to remain in control. It was up to me to be the voice of reason in my brother's ear. I wanted nothing more than to exterminate the mouth-breathing, Cro-Magnon prick who'd hurt our sister. In a perfect world, I would call up the power I'd inherited from my father and erase that brainless waste of flesh from existence. But this was not a perfect world, and much more was at stake than the life of one trailer-park thug with a fondness for hitting girls. My brother was completely consumed with his desire to avenge our sister's honor, which left only me to consider our family's safety and our father's legacy. I shoved my rage back down, forcing it into a corner of my chest where I could contain it. I buried it beneath the weight of my father's teaching.
"Nothing comes before family." I breathed, meeting the intensity of my brother's gaze with the stillness of my own. "Lara knows that, Samuel. Why do think she allowed Trent to do what he did? We both know she could have broken that kid in half without much effort. But she knows the danger it would have put her family in if she'd exposed us like that. So she made a sacrifice. It was the only way to protect the family, and Dad would agree."
Samuel shook his head.
"This family is my responsibility now, Jonas." Even in the dark I could see the cold determination on my brother's face, the weight of ancient cares resting on his young shoulders. "Father had his time, and he wasted it cowering in the darkest holes he could find."
His fingers tightened briefly on my shoulders, waves of latent power pressing into my bones. Then he loosened his hold.
"I'm through hiding."
Samuel walked on.
Trent lived with his uncle in a dilapidated trailer at the end of a row. It sat at the edge of the trailer park, sagging like a beaten horse and shuddering beneath the weight of its own frame. Beyond the trailer, a dried up expanse of Ohio cornfield stretched into the dark, the ragged ends of harvested stalks jutting from the earth like shark teeth. The night held still and silent around us, keeping its distance from Samuel and me as we paused at the edge of the lot. I reached into the air with my senses, gathering in the nighttime sounds and smells, examining the atmosphere as it brushed against my skin and searching for any unseen threats. Nothing was out of place.
Samuel moved toward the tilted wooden steps.
"Wait," I tried one final time. "Don't do this, Samuel. This isn't what a Holder of Light is meant to be."
My brother paused, looking back at me over a broad shoulder at my use of the ancient name. Our father had rarely used the term, but when he did, his voice held such a reverence that I knew it to be an important name. Holders of Light, my father claimed, were the guardians of a legacy of power that could be traced back for centuries. Protectors of a sacred trust. I'd never felt like a protector of anything, but I knew that Samuel felt the weight of that responsibility now, with our father gone.
"Isn't it?" Samuel said. "I thought our first responsibility was to protect each other. What do you think I'm doing here?"
"There's a difference between protection and revenge," I said. "And you know what will happen if you go too far."
"The barrier will lift?" he sneered "Our enemies will come for us?"
"Yes." The word stuck in my throat.
"Says who? Dad? Uncle Aaron?"
Samuel's voice softened, an eyebrow raised as he turned to face me. Standing firm in the quiet dark, he looked more like our father than ever. The sight stirred up a pang of echoing loss in the hollows of my memory.
"They lived their lives in fear of that myth, Jonas, and look where it got them. Dad is dead in his grave, and Uncle Aaron sits in hiding, drinking himself into his."
Samuel shook his head, calmer now, resolute.
"That's no way to live, little brother. It's time for us to stop cowering like dogs from a beating, and take our place in the world." He turned back toward the trailer door. "No one hurts this family anymore. Starting now."
Samuel never touched the door as it exploded inward. He stepped through the frame and into the dim interior of the trailer. I followed close behind, moving to his side. The air inside was musty with molding carpet and peeling paint. A sharp stench of body odor assaulted us from the trailer's only occupant: a slovenly, aging man in a tired brown armchair. He glanced up at us without interest over the beer can tipped to his grimy lips, slopping cheap beer onto the front of his tattered bathrobe.
This was Trent's uncle, Earl, his legal guardian since Trent's father went to prison. The man was a worthless lump of flesh, if you asked me. He rarely left his trailer, almost never left that chair, preferring to waste his days soaking up satellite TV and adding to his sizable beer belly. He was the kind of man who cared about nothing and no one, as long as his beer was cold and his welfare check arrived on time. I'd watched our father confront him once, over his cruel treatment of a cashier at the local grocery store. Dad and I stood in line behind the man as he cussed out the young girl behind the counter for handing him the wrong brand of cigarettes. The girl broke down in tears and my father intervened. Earl struck my father in the face with his fist then dared him to do something about it. My dad could have ruined the man just by thinking about it, but his only response had been to lower his eyes and walk away. Later, Uncle Aaron had said my father did the right thing for the family, but I could see doubt and anger behind his eyes.
Earl set his beer on the cooler next to his chair and continued watching his TV show, pretending not to care about our violent entrance or his broken door.
"Where's Trent?" My brother asked.
No response. Just a smirk and another sip of beer.
Samuel looked at me.
"Check the back."
I moved quickly past the greasy man and checked the bathroom and two small bedrooms off the short back hallway. As I moved through the small space, I made efforts not to touch the grimy walls and doorways. Food was scattered across the floor along with other nameless filth and a thick layer of greasy dust coated every surface that hadn't been touched recently. The bedrooms contained broken down dressers and dirty mattresses tossed at random angles onto the threadbare carpet. Cigarette butts and beer cans sprawled in the corners along with spent needles and other discarded recreational items. I glanced in the bathroom as quickly as I could, trying not to identify the stains and smudges that defiled every surface.
The rooms were empty. Trent was not at home.
Back in the living room, I met Samuel's eye and shook my head, moving to take my place beside him. Samuel turned back to Trent's Uncle and took a step forward.
"Where is he, old man?" The threat in Samuel's voice was unmistakable.
"You think I'm gonna tell you anything, you little puke?" Earl slurred, finally turning to face us. "You think I'm gonna rat out my brother's boy to a couple chicken-shit little pissers like you? Whole family of cowards, just like your old man."
Rage bubbled up inside me once more, threatening to overwhelm my self-control.
"You know nothing about our father!" I stepped in front of Samuel. I was not as large and threatening as my brother, but I was angry.
Samuel placed a strong hand on my shoulder, not to restrain me, but to support me in whatever I chose to do next.
"Don't kid yourself, boy" The old man's ragged laugh ended in a heaving fit of smoker's cough. "I know what you are. You and that whole family of yours. Pathetic little demons if you ask me. All that dark juju and not one of you is worth the spit on my boot."
He spat on the carpet to illustrate his point and dredged up a broken yellow smile.
I stood there seething, unable to trust myself to move or speak, afraid of what damage I might do. Samuel did not share my restraint. As he stepped forward, hands curling into fists at his side, I saw reflected in his cold eyes the same fury that boiled in my blood. I could feel the energy gathering in the room, a crackling tension in the air.
"Samuel, wait —" I whispered, but I knew it was too late.
I stepped to the side of the room near the door. Safer to stay out of his way now.
"You're going to tell me where your nephew is, old man." Samuel spoke quietly, but his voice had changed. Deepened. It seemed to come from everywhere at once.
His eyes lit up like miniature stars and bolts of electricity traced up and down the arms of his jacket, gathering at his fists in a sizzling white glow. Around us the walls, ceiling, and floor of the trailer began to vibrate and the furniture jumped in place. Trent's uncle sat wide-eyed in his chair as it shook, and opened his mouth to speak.
The old man's words were cut off as his body jerked into the air.
He barked out a frightened yelp as he found himself floating in the middle of the small living space, flailing with clumsy arms and legs. Samuel moved his right hand and Earl began to rotate in the air. The chair beneath him shot backwards through the wall of the trailer and into the cornfield beyond. A fresh cry of fear came from the old man as he picked up speed, pinwheeling faster and moving gradually up and down — closer to the ceiling, then closer to the floor, then back up again — spinning and spinning.
Bolts of energy spread out from my brother's hands into the cramped room, licking along the floors and ceiling, whipping in threatening feints toward the old man. Where they touched me I felt a familiar tingle of Light that echoed inside me where my own dormant power snarled to be set loose.
I knew I should try to stop Samuel. I should be concerned about our future and the safety of our family. But all I could think of was the brokenness and shame on my sister's face, and the sad resignation in her eyes.
"Where is he?" Samuel demanded again, his voice rattling through the trailer like a thunderclap carried on the gusts of a summer storm.
Trent's uncle was crying now. Sobbing and cursing in frustration and terror.
"Where?" Rumbled Samuel, as the old man rotated faster.
"Okay!" Earl screamed, voice cracking in high-pitched desperation.
"He's at the bridge! The Snake River Bridge!"
In an instant the storm ended.
The power dispersed benignly into the air and the old man dropped to the floor like a bag of rotting potatoes. He flailed on the filthy carpet, coughing and gagging after the air that fled his lungs.
"You bastards!" The Earl sputtered between heaving breaths. "You're gonna pay for that. You touch that boy and I'll have the Sheriff on you so fast —"
"Go ahead and call him." I muttered. "I'm sure he'd be interested in seeing some of the less-than-legal items laying around this dumpster you call a home."
Trent's Uncle didn't respond. Just shook his head and crawled to the overturned cooler, rummaging for another beer.
In some rational corner of my mind, I know that Samuel shouldn't have done what he did, but I could manage to feel any sympathy for Earl. His animal of a nephew had hurt my sister and I had no doubt that the old man's influence had contributed to Trent's delinquency. As far as I was concerned, Earl was an accessory to my sister's assault, and he deserved far worse than my brother had given him.
Samuel shook his head in disgust and turned away.
He never looked back at the damage he'd caused as he stalked through the broken doorway.