It was a snowy night in the Upper East Side of New York, the white billowing snow filling every crevice of 740 Park Avenue’s frozen ground. Lights illuminated every street corner, decorating the city in a chorus of lights blending into one another, creating a garland of bliss and cheer for the impending arrival of Christmas. However, there was one family who perpetually lacked the holiday cheer. There would be the usual rambling of his father’s business deals, the lavish parties thrown by his father’s coworkers, the usual exchange of pithy conversation. However, there would be no traces of Christmas spirit. At least, this is how the fifteen-year-old Andrew Slater envisioned it. Normally, he would be inside his room, trying to block out everything around him. Instead, he decided to try to generate some inkling of positive emotion. After all, it was winter, his favorite season of the year. However, only dreadful memories rushed into his head. The visions still haunted him daily… his childhood memories of witnessing strange hooded figures continuously watching him from below his apartment windows. These ominous visions did not aid his already sour mood.
Andrew, now tired of sitting alone in his room, headed downstairs to see the presents that were under the tree. Unfortunately, everything was just as he expected. For as long as he could remember, it had been this way every year. There was the sole present addressed to his father, John Slater. His mother, Mary, had never forgotten to wrap his father a gift. Of course, Andrew would also receive a gift… but always in secret. His mother would give his gift to him in private to avoid major conflicts with his father. Andrew’s father, John Slater, had this unspoken rule that a parent should never give their children “lavishing” gifts, especially when they had the privilege of affording a lavish lifestyle. In Andrew’s mind, he could hear his father bellow, “How is a child to respect the gifts they receive? Their immaturity evidently lacks the comprehension of the value of something given for free.” His father was literally a walking proverb. Because of this fact, Andrew would never receive any Christmas presents from him. This reality had bothered Andrew since he was a child. However, in the back of his mind, he believed that it was slightly better, considering their lack of a father-son relationship. His father never really took the time to get to know him. He was always too busy running his successful business, Slater’s Investments, to really pay much attention to Andrew’s universe.
In the distance, he could hear the footsteps of an individual coming towards him. He prayed that it wasn’t his father. Thankfully, when Andrew turned around, his mother was standing right next to him. She noticed the sorrowful expression on his face, putting her hand on Andrew’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry, Andrew. I really am.”
For a while, Andrew stood in silence. He understood her sentiment, but he couldn’t say anything more. He reluctantly nodded his head.
Mary Slater sighed, “I wish I could change your father, if only I could…”
It’s not your fault,” said Andrew, his eyes drifting downward. “It will never be your fault. You married him for my benefit. He has given us both a better life… I know that, mom.”
This had been the mantra Andrew had assimilated since the day John Slater became his father. He recalled with tremendous displeasure the day his biological father, Gordon Brooke, had died in a fatal car accident. This memory lingered within him like a gut-wrenching stab wound; thinking about it only furthered his psychological trauma. When he and his mother had received the news, it came as a bewildering shock. Andrew could not believe his very own father could be taken away in what appeared to be a fleeting instant. He did not remember many details about his real father, as he had passed away when he was only 9 years old. His mother had often mentioned that Gordon had been the breadwinner of the family. Yet despite his consideration for their wellbeing, they continuously struggled with money. Thus, the security of the family primarily rested on his biological father’s shoulders. However, all their expectations for future financial security was shattered the moment Gordon vanished from their life. Ever since that faithful day, Andrew and Mary had gone from living a semi-comfortable, middle class lifestyle to living in absolute poverty. In a way, Mary meeting John Slater was a godsend as well as a curse. He understood that his mother’s marriage to him significantly improved their previously unlavish lifestyle. But what Andrew could not comprehend was how she could continue to stay with him. Although he refused to admit it, he genuinely resented his true father for his death which furthered his mother’s suffering. But what Andrew despised most of all was the fact that he was now forced live within this unfamiliar and regularly unbearable affluent lifestyle.
“Thank you… I appreciate that,” quietly murmured Mary.
Andrew gave her a long, sentimental hug.
Mary tried to force a smile. “Just remember that I still care, and will forever care about you, Andrew.”
If there was one person that kept Andrew appreciating some moments in his dreary days, it was his mother. She not only cared for him, she had been the only person who truly raised him. She helped him through his hardships, talked to him when he needed a helping hand, and even went out of her way to make sure he was feeling safe and secure. This moment was only one of the numerous instances in which she comforted him.
“Dinner is on the table. Come when you’re ready.” Mary Slater reminded him as she walked towards the dinner table.
“Thanks. Will do.” Andrew quietly replied.
Andrew sighed as he headed to the dinner table. John was already seated; picking at his newly served plate, asserting an expression of disdain. Andrew hesitated. He knew, at that very moment, this semblance of a family dinner was not going to turn out well.
“Mary, this food is quite cold, and some parts are heavily burnt. Honestly, are you sure you’re even awake right now?” John Slater chuckled.
Andrew wasn’t sure if he was trying to make a joke or just being an arrogant asshole. The tone in his voice implied the latter.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disappoint you.” Mary Slater responded nervously.
“Well, you should try harder next time,” John Slater sternly replied, his tone not being of the gentler variety.
He turned his head in Andrew’s direction.
“Son, are you going to sit down, or are you just going to stand there like a deer in headlights?”
Andrew quietly took a seat next to his mother.
“So, son… Have you still not met anybody at school that’s friend material? No boy or even a girl?” He smirked slightly as he stretched out the last word’s pronunciation.
Andrew began to roll his eyes. He had had this conversation with his father many times before. If there was one thing he hated to talk about, it was his friendships… especially over dinner.
“Yes, I’ve met many people in my school, many “boys” and “girls” that you speak of. Doesn’t mean they’re friendship material.”
“Honestly, Andrew, you think that no one in your school rises to your standards?! We put you in one of the most prestigious private schools in New York for a reason! If those kids aren’t good enough for you, then who will meet your ridiculous expectations?!”
John Slater slammed his hands on the kitchen table. At this point, he had lost his cool.
“Tell me exactly why nobody in your class, except for that wretched girl, is worthy of your highness!?”
Andrew’s mother jumped in fearful anticipation. Then, she suddenly mustered her courage.
“John, you know Andrew’s having a hard time in school!” Mary Slater got up from her seat and yelled at her husband. “You should listen to your son for once in your life! If you would have tried to understand him, you wouldn’t have to ask these questions!”
“Shut up!” John screamed, slapping Mary across the face. He angrily looked at her as she began to cry from the wrenching pain in her cheek.
“This is a conversation between father and son, you understand?! You have no part in this!”
John’s overbearing tone made Mary cringe. She stormed out of the room in retreat. This was enough to make Andrew snap.
“She was only trying to help! There was no reason to hit her!” Andrew screamed, “This is my problem, not hers!”
Andrew’s father paused for a moment, but the silence did not continue for long.
“I don’t know who you think you are, but you better lose that attitude of yours. I make the rules in this family, and you have no right to tell me how I should behave! Go to your room!”
Andrew sat in silence as tears of frustration began to trickle down his face.
“Go to your room, now!” he demanded, pointing towards Andrew’s bedroom door.
Andrew slowly rose from his chair and headed to his room. While Andrew was walking upstairs, he could hear his father screaming in the distance.
“Don’t even think of getting out of there! If I hear that door open, even just a little, I swear you’ll never disobey me again!”
* * *
Andrew slammed his bedroom door shut. He could not stand his father’s constant abuse.
Seeing the tears on his mother’s face when she exited the room made his stomach turn. Many times, he wished his father would cease to exist, and the one thing Andrew could not comprehend was how his mother tolerated him. Andrew lay on his bed and stared at the ceiling. Since there was no escape, he figured he’d go to sleep. He thought it might provide some sort of respite from the myriad of emotions wracking through his brain. He wrapped himself in his blanket, covered his head, and closed his eyes. Once Andrew began to doze off, a sense of peace encompassed his body, dulling the pain until he fell into a deep slumber. Unfortunately, this sensation slowly dissipated as the strangest dream began to emerge.
Andrew looked around his surroundings. He noticed he was no longer in his bedroom. Rather, he was standing in the middle of Times Square in the cold, winter night. Thousands of moving multicolored screens glowed in every direction Andrew turned, each changing shape as the pictures in the screens moved with him, forming a luminescent one-man parade. The falling snow surrounding the area only added to the enchanting spectacle. Although slightly amused, he was mostly baffled and a bit apprehensive. There was literally no one in sight; it was as if the city had been abandoned. As Andrew knew quite well, New York City was never abandoned. However, he had not noticed the lone individual also walking the city streets. In the far distance, Andrew began to make out the figure of a young girl with strikingly red hair. She appeared to be around the same age as Andrew, but her childlike figure gave her a much more youthful, pixie-like appearance. She was remarkably pale, with big piercing blue eyes that glinted as she walked towards him in the snow. Her clothes looked like a strange mixture of a military officer’s uniform and a medieval knight’s shining armor. Andrew thought it was the weirdest, most gaudy outfit he had ever seen. He could only wonder how many other wardrobe malfunctions she had stored in her closet. Thankfully, she was also wearing a grey coat with the hood pulled up, giving her an elusive aura as the uniformed figure took long strides toward him. Andrew could not help but stare at her as she walked closer towards his direction.
When she was standing next to Andrew, she looked at him with a grim look on her face, a countenance that did not match her youthful persona. The girl looked down in distress, her eyes portraying concern. She remained utterly silent. Instantly, Andrew wanted to learn about her. What was on her mind? Where did she come from? And, most importantly, why she was the only person walking around New York City? The mysterious girl held out her hand to reveal a letter wrapped neatly in a red ribbon. A golden crown insignia with flaming dragon wings on each side appeared stamped at the center of the bow. Confused, Andrew reached out his hand as she placed the letter in his palm. Her pale, cold hands generated a chill throughout his body.
With hesitation, Andrew murmured, “Who are you?”
But it was too late.
Before she could answer, everything began to disappear into a bright light.