Ch 1: Conflict at Six
of Verity!” cried the Mind Lord, flinging a splintery twig in Barry’s face.
He swatted it away with one hand and continued forward. The Mind Lord grimaced and continued his onslaught, reaching into the folds of his electric blue robes.
“D20 attack!” he declared in a nasally tone, pelting Barry’s raised arms with a spray of colored dice.
Barry gave a sort of growl and ran forward while his attacker was reloading, jumping up on top of him and using his oversized head as a springboard. The Mind Lord shouted out in pain and fell forward, face-first on the ground. Barry took the opportunity and steadied himself in midair, ready to come crashing down and break the monster’s spine.
Without warning, he fell straight through the overlord as if he was holographic projection, his body shattering into thousands of little shards. The real Mind Lord appeared in front of him in a swirling blaze of code, grinning wickedly from behind his taped spectacles.
“You’ve just activated one of my elusive ensnarement squares!” he shouted with glee, raising a hand and setting it into motion.
A tiny cage sprang around Barry, making a deafening metallic clang when the rods connected. The Mind Lord walked briskly up to him and tapped on the metal of the new prison with his knuckles.
“Don’t bother trying to escape, you! This Cage of Unyielding you just stepped into is completely invincible unless attacked by one hundred foes! It’s made of a special visium-absorbetium alloy, of course! You’ll NEVER ESCAPE!”
Suddenly, he whipped out a small, glowing device from his pen pocket and placed on the ground in the cage, pressing it down firmly.
“Here’s a sticky bomb for good measure! Have fun with your imminent spontaneous combustion!”
He walked away with a wheezy laugh, pushing his glasses up on his nose as he hopped back onto his hover transport and flew off into the distance. Barry let out a grunt as he kicked the bars of the small cell, trying again and again to make even the slightest dent. After another ten seconds of this, he just gave up and leaned up against the side of the cage, watching helplessly as the nerd army terrorized Weeksley Town all over the place.
Men and women everywhere were being beaten to a pulp with quadruple-bladed swords, wizard staffs and blasters full of acidic gamer fuel. Swarms of jet-powered segways clouded the skies as the nerds flew off to take on more and more beyond his sight. A LARPing group of Dwarven geek warriors charged on by, demolishing yards with their axes, maces and war hammers; one guy looked like he had missed the memo and was brandishing a piece of string. It was utter chaos!
“Man!” said Barry with a sigh, crossing his arms and watching as the sticky bomb ticked beneath its crimson glaze. “And everything started out so well this weekend...”
3 Days Earlier...
Barry’s eyes opened slowly, pushing against the weight of his drowsiness. He’d just woken up from a wonderful dream filled with junk food and video games, his life’s staples.
It was Saturday! He didn’t have to worry about getting up at 6:30 to drag himself to school! In fact, when he looked at the alarm clock he saw that it was 11:30. He smiled and thought to himself,
“Five extra hours of sleep? Heck yeah.”
He stretched in bed and gave a huge yawn before swinging his legs over the side and moving to a sitting position. It took him a few seconds to get himself up off the comforting softness of his mattress, but he managed to do so and make his way across the gigantic bedroom. It was a big space to travel, believe you me.
He pushed open the door to the bathroom and stepped inside, yawning again. He stretched his hand past the nearby curtain and turned on the water to the shower, undressing from his pajamas and hopping in under the steamy hot spray of water.
“Ahhh...” he sighed, enjoying the laziness and lying down inside the spotless ten foot-long shower. “Living in a rich man’s world does have its perks...” he added, grinning beneath the spray from the shower head.
As steam filled up the room, the broad mirror that hung on the wall opposite of the shower started to steam up. Strangely enough, it formed words from the fog, creating “Rage of the Nerds” on the mirror’s slick surface, background music beginning to play out of nowhere. Barry noticed the tune and furrowed his eyebrows, listening for the source over the sound of spraying water.
“I didn’t set a musical alarm...eh, whatever.”
After actually showering, Barry turned the water back off and got out of the shower with a towel, drying himself off. He instantly noticed the “Rage of the Nerds” title written in fog on his mirror and raised an eyebrow at it curiously. He quickly came to the conclusion that it was his older brother pulling another stupid prank on him. So, he lifted his head to the ceiling and shouted,
“Twitchell! You’d better not be in here!
He took a suspicious look around before deciding that Twitchell was most likely long gone already; he was exceptionally good at covering his tracks. When he wanted to, of course. Barry grabbed his clothes off of the white marble counter and dressed: plain orange t-shirt and a pair of plaid shorts
Feeling rather lazy, he decided to take the elevator. Upon reaching the second floor, the mirror-plated doors opened in front of him and he stepped out into the master’s kitchen. Intricate tiles and cream-colored wallpaper covered the faces of the room.
Two fridges the size of small trees stood to his left, towering over him like gigantic chrome freaks of nature. More marble countertops, ones of blue granite, lined the walls on all sides, spotless. At least three of every kitchen appliance imaginable stood around the room, all luxurious beyond imaginable.
Oh yeah, and there was a wood-burning pizza oven in the far left corner of the kitchen.
Barry got a running start into the room and then slid barefoot on the newly-waxed floors, stopping in front of the second cupboard to his left. He reached up and pulled on the mahogany handle, opening it with the tiniest creak. A quick hand whipped inside and pulled out a box of cereal.
He closed the cupboard and proceeded to slide his way through the open doorway to his right, stopping himself in front of the grand dining table, polished to a shine. He pulled up a chair and sat down, tearing open the top of the box and swiftly pouring himself a bowl.
“Chocolate Covered Peanut Puffs! Definitely not an off-brand version of some other chocolaty, peanut-buttery cereal.” Barry remarked, chuckling a little at his own comment.
His spoon plunged into the bowl and brought up a nice load, sticking the whole thing in his mouth. He loved listening to the big, crunchy earthquake that pounded in his head while he chewed. He swallowed the resulting mush and then started scarfing down another spoonful, enjoying it just as much as the first one. As he put a third mound of puffs into his mouth, he started making a mental plan. Or at least try to.
“Hm...wonder if Thea’s free today. Was it this Friday that she said her karate camp started, or was that next Friday? Or maybe it was Thursday...”
He didn’t exactly have the best memory on the block, but at least he tried his best. Hopefully, Thea hadn’t left for camp yet; he didn’t want to be faced with a week of being bored at school without her.
Thea had been his best friend for as long as he could remember, which...well, there goes his memory again. Still, she was the only person he knew would have his back at school since no one would really pick on him with her around. Girl had a brown belt in karate, for goodness’ sake.
He finished his bowl of Chocolate Covered Peanut Puffs in record time and stood up from the table, grabbing his bowl and giving it a gentle toss into the sink. The butler would take care of it, so he didn’t need to worry.
Eager to get going, Barry jogged on down the exiting hallway, passing several other rooms and making his way down a couple staircases. He turned one final corner to find the entrance hall, which was wider and more decorated than all the other hallways. At its end was a set of two tall white doors, the front door to the mansion.
Barry continued at a jog until he reached the set. To the welcome mat underneath his feet were his sandals, which he slipped on before turning back to the doors. He grasped the gilded doorknob on his right and swiftly pulled the door open, creating a light draft that ruffled his blond hair.
“Ahh...” he sighed, breathing in fresh air and exhaling slowly. “I’ve got a good feeling about today.”
He walked casually out the door, shutting it behind him without looking. He descended down the sloped cobblestone stairs, his footsteps quick taps on the hard surface. At the bottom of the staircase, he turned to look at his home one more time, taking a moment to admire its magnificence, then removed his gaze and returned to a run as he approached the road.
Weeksley Town was a rather modest district, not boasting very many impressive sights or tourist attractions. Small homes and businesses made up the majority of the ring-shaped suburban area.
A large, near-circular lake rested in its center, completely frozen, with a mini mountain of ice protruding from its center—creatively named Ice Mountain. Oddly enough, even when it got as warm as it was, its frozen form never melted.
The worn soles of Barry’s sandals slapped the parched pavement while he ran. He was thankful for the light breeze, which would have left him in a desert of concrete and grass had it been absent. Thea lived two blocks down the road on the corner of Brystal and Hoosier, so he didn’t have that far to go.
Even so, he was starting to feel out of breath by the time he crossed the road and stepped foot on the sidewalk’s curve. The sun was burning him alive, making the back of his neck prick with heat. He took another breath and faced Thea’s house, pausing for a second before taking a step into the driveway. In a few seconds, he’d reached her front door and had his hand ready to knock. He did just that.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
There was not enough overhang on the porch roof to protect him from the blazing sun, so he just stood there in discomfort, waiting rather patiently. His back was starting to stick to his shirt when the door opened rather quickly, and it sent another gust of air into Barry’s face.
“Phew...” he sighed, taking a look up into the doorway at the man who stood there.
It was Thea’s father, a regular-sized guy with curly black hair, a deep tan, and chiseled features that made him look deceivingly young. He grinned down at Barry with a curious smile.
“Oh, Barry!” he half-shouted, his tone cheerful. “You looking for Thea?
Barry nodded, a smile coming to his face as well.
“Yeah, I am.”
“Well, I’m afraid you just missed her.” he replied, scratching the back of his neck. “Imelda left with her to go to karate camp about five minutes ago.”
“Oh...” murmured Barry, looking back down at his feet in disappointment. “I thought so.”
He looked genuinely sorry for Barry, who just sighed and gave a little shrug. He was just about ready to turn on his heel and walk away when he noticed the strange look on Thea’s father’s face. He stopped, looking back up at him.
“Uh, is there something else?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
The man lifted a hand to his handsome face and rubbed the dark stubble on his cheeks, just surveying the boy in front of him.
“I found this note in Thea’s room after she left.”
He reached into the pocket of his khaki shorts and pulled out a wrinkled piece of paper. Barry took it from him and held it up in his hand, observing it. It didn’t look all that special to him. He was starting to unfold it when Thea’s father set his hand down on top of Barry’s to stop him. He had surprisingly nimble fingers for a man.
“She definitely didn’t tell me anything about it, so I’m not sure what I can tell you. I mean, I trust her not to be getting in too much trouble, so I probably won’t be questioning her about it later. Sounds just like another one of her little secrets she has!”
Barry nodded in understanding and crumpled the paper into a small enough ball to fit in his pocket. Once it was tucked away, he glanced back up at the man in the doorway and returned his friendly smile.
“Thanks, Mr. Quincer!”
At his words, Mr. Quincer’s eyebrow raised an eyebrow at him and said,
“Hey, you know you can just call me Raul, right? I mean, as long as I’m able to call you Barry and not Mr. Jingleton.” then he laughed, looking up at the bright blue sky outside. “Ah, Jingleton. That’s an interesting surname! Which side of your family is that from?”
Barry really didn’t have a clue. He tried not to think about his unfortunate last name if he could help it.
“I have no idea.” he said, being completely honest; trying to avoid any more awkward questions, he cleared his throat obviously and added, “Well, I guess I should be going, then! Can you have her give me a call when she gets back?”
Raul Quincer nodded and waved, letting him off the hook.
“I can do that! Have a nice one!”
Barry turned to face the sidewalk again and made his way over rather hastily, crossing the road at a jog. Raul was really friendly and a cool dad and all, but he sure did like to talk. Not a trait that he and Barry shared.
Now that he had Thea’s father out of his mind, he reminded himself of her note. He reached into his pocket and clasped two of his fingers on the slip, pulling it out of his pocket slowly so he wouldn’t accidently rip it; it was pretty frayed around the edges.
Thea had never written notes to him before, so he felt a weird sort of anxious excitement as his fingers were working at unfolding the messy ball. A few seconds later, he unfolded the last corner and held it out in front of him. Her handwriting was chaotic, for lack of better words, but he managed to make it all out.‘Café International, cracked faucet, 6:00. Tonight. Password: Café au lait.’ he read silently, eyes narrowed at the smudged writing. “Sheesh! She must’ve really tried to use as few words as possible.”
He looked up from the paper and stared into the distance thoughtfully. At least she was being specific. Still, that didn’t tell him much. He took another peek at the paper.
He stuck his hand in his other pocket and pulled out his smartphone, glancing at the digital clock at the top of the screen. It was only 12:50 in the afternoon. Barry slid his phone back in his pocket and sighed, gazing down at the piece of paper.
“Dang it, now I’m actually interested. What am I gonna do for five-ish hours?” he asked himself.
It was then that a massive, fast-moving something slammed into him from behind, sending him flying out onto the road. His palms scraped painfully on the hot, rough pavement when he broke his fall, making him wince. He stared at his raw hands, gritting his teeth to keep himself from crying out.
A few seconds later, a black sports sedan came down the road and started honking at him, getting him to stumble back onto the sidewalk to avoid becoming roadkill. When he turned around slowly to see what had hit him, his stomach dropped into his shoes.
His blood ran cold when he realized that he had just knocked Mr. Burg flat on his face. Even though he was high school’s one and only phys ed teacher, he wasn’t exactly healthiest guy on the planet, what with the extra hundred pounds under his belt. He was also stuck at below-average height, which didn’t help his physique much.
To Barry, he was a lot like this really fat guy that used to work at the dime store downtown. He got fired one day for stealing over a hundred dollars in penny candy.
“Hnnn...” Mr. Burg moaned on the ground, clutching his immense gut.
Barry tried to turn slowly and walk away without him noticing, but he was not so lucky. For a guy with such beady eyes, he sure was observant.
“Jingleton...” he muttered angrily, eyes widening upon spotting Barry, who froze in place just a few feet away.
“You really did it this time!”
He lifted up one of his stump-esque legs and stomped a giant foot into the pavement, steadying himself. He did not take his eyes off of Barry as he got to his feet, though he was still holding his stomach gingerly.
“I can’t even go about my business outside of school without you showing up and screwing with me! Why aren’t you sitting around at home, playing your video games or texting or Googling or some junk like regular teenagers?” he commented nastily, glaring down at his miserable student.
Barry had learned just to deal with ol’ Burgermeister’s spouts of rage by now, so he just shrugged and tried not to make eye contact, deciding to begin staring at his toes instead.
“Yeah, uh, I’m not like regular teenagers, I guess.” he answered, watching his tongue extra carefully. Mr. Burg raised a fat finger into the air and declared,
“Of course you’re not! You were always the weird kid, Jingleton. Going around on your own, not talking to anybody in class except that emotionally-unstable exercise nut. What’s her name again? Traynesha?”
Barry gritted his teeth but did not look up.
“Her name’s Thea...and you’re one to talk about emotionally-unstable people...” he muttered under his breath.
The redness in Mr. Burg’s face increased a thousand percent and he took a sudden step forward. Barry could’ve sworn the whole earth shook with this one step.
“WHAT WAS THAT?” he screamed, positively furious.
“I’m getting older, boy, so I can’t hear as well as I used to!”
“All I said,” replied Barry, straightening up and taking a fleeting look into his the instructor’s eyes, “was that her name isn’t Traynesha. It’s Thea.”
Mr. Burg took another step closer to Barry, who flinched. Instead of coming to a stop, however, he continued to inch forward, maintaining that intimidating gleam in his eyes.
“You think I appreciate your backsass? Are you the one who does role call each class? I know my students! And I don’t need some twelve year-old kid telling me who’s who!”
“I’m fourteen, Mr. Burg.” Barry said indignantly.
Finally, Mr. Burg had had enough. He lifted his foot high into the air and slammed it down on the ground, shaking the ground again. He leaned forward grabbed Barry’s collar with a meaty hand, pulling him even closer.
Now they were only a few inches away from touching noses, close enough where Barry had no choice but to stare deep into those cruel, unforgiving eyes of blue.
“If I wasn’t under the restrictions of these here laws of the United States, I’d break you. Unfortunately, I can’t afford to go to jail a second time, so I’ll have to settle for a nice, long, painful detention session.”
Barry was trying to figure out an escape route, but there seemed to be a severe lack of options here. Still, the man couldn’t really give him a detention.
“But you can’t give me a detention if it’s Saturday! Besides, we’re not on school grounds.” bravely, he raised a finger and made it tremble, speaking in an old man’s voice, “You have no power here.”
“Don’t mock me!” he spat, quite literally blowing spit in Barry’s face. “I was going to have you due for after-school detention on Monday morning, but you’ve changed my mind. How about a one-day in-school suspension? Starting TONIGHT!”
Barry’s eyes grew even bigger and he immediately regretted making any kind of comment. He shook his head quickly, saying,
“Whoa, you can’t do that! It’s the weekend!”
Mr. Burg made a great big smile, his expression full of evil glee. “Ha! That’s what you think, Jingleton. I can take you in anytime, anywhere...” the grip on Barry’s shirt tightened. “...as long as you don’t make a peep about it.”
The murderous look that he was giving off forced Barry’s words right back down his throat, making him gulp visibly. Was he being threatened? A few seconds later, however, Barry returned with a glare of his own.
“I could call the police. This is basically abuse!” Barry replied, trying to get rid of the fear in his voice. He was greeted with a quick shake of the head from Mr. Burg. He now looked as though a fantastic idea had come into his head. And that it had...
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that! You know, I could also tell Ms. Quincer about the little incident in the weight room. I bet she’d find it very interesting. It may, well, change her opinion about you by a smidge.”
Upon hearing these words, the sickening feeling that Barry had gotten earlier returned with twice the punch. He bit his lip.
“You saw that?”
To Barry’s surprise, he felt Mr. Burg’s fingers loosen. A moment later, he was dropped to the ground. It seemed that Mr. Burg knew he didn’t need to threaten with physical force anymore. His teacher crossed his gorilla arms and increased the length of his wicked grin.
“I’m always watching my students. Especially you, Jingleton.”
An involuntary shudder worked its way up Barry’s spine. Seriously, that was an unnecessary amount of creepiness right there.
“Now, you can either come to school with me to serve your punishment and not speak to anyone about this, especially the authorities, or you can tell whoever the hell you want about my threats and I can spill the beans about what happened in the weight room. Pick one!”
Barry clenched his teeth together at this injustice. He really, really hated being blackmailed! But he was under the jerk’s enormous thumb. There was nothing he could do about it.
“I can’t let her know what happened!” he thought, feeling a mixture of both fear and frustration starting to build up inside him. “But I also can’t just give into this guy again! He’s giving me no options...”
Mr. Burg tapped his foot on the ground rapidly, waiting with a highly impatient look on his face.
“Not getting any younger here.” he grumbled, eyes squinting down at him.
Finally, Barry had made his decision. It wasn’t easy, but it was the best thing to do.
“What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.” he said firmly, meeting his teacher’s foul gaze once more.
The large man’s scowl was replaced with a large smile to match. He always won. He walked forward suddenly, passing Barry right by.
“Then I expect to see you in the red gym at six o’clock tonight. Enjoy the rest of your day...junior.”
He ran his thick fingers through Barry’s mop of blonde and messed it up, but it tore at his scalp. He even pat him on the head for good measure before turning the corner of the sidewalk and breaking into a jog.
Barry tucked the curvy tufts of hair that were sticking up into the air, his face rather red from humiliation. When he was satisfied, he let out a heavy breath and stared off into the distance, feeling a lot of stress starting to shift around inside of him.
“Yeesh! His sweatshirt really stinks! Just like his hatred for me and all the other teens in America.” he muttered angrily; then he realized something and shot right back up from his sad slouch. “Wait, six o’clock! I gotta be at the coffee shop to meet Thea then!”
He cursed that evil phys ed teacher under his breath. Why couldn’t his in-school suspension thingy be just an hour later? Or even a half hour?!
“This just sucks!” he complained to no one. “I’m going to have to miss Thea because of that...that jerky, lardy—”
He always tried his best not to swear, but sometimes it really bit not to be able to. Probably because Mr. Burg was the absolute most-hated teacher at Weeksley Senior High and for a good reason.
“‘I hate everyone at this school too, so that makes it fair.’” Barry quoted, imitating the man’s growly voice. “What a butthead. Now what am I supposed to tell Thea? She never has her phone on, so it’s not like I can text her.”
But Barry was desperate, so he took his phone back out and soon had a new message board open. He hastily typed a text:
Ran into Burgermeister on the sidewalk, got an in-school suspension for tonight, have to be there at 6. Don’t know what to do, may have to skip out on the hangout. Sorry. :(
He gave a gloomy sigh and stared at the message. “I guess it’s worth a try.” he grumbled, pressing his thumb down on Send.
He looked up from his phone as he was sliding it back in his left pocket. He had somehow forgotten just how hot the sun was for a short period of time and now he could feel sunburn on the back of his neck. A grimace formed on his lips as he felt the sharp, sensitive burn.
“Well, guess I have no use being outside anymore. Better go back home and shut myself in a dark room, feel sorry for myself, and watch some Netfilms. Or Hoola Plus...but probably Netfilms since it’s superior.”
With his mansion awaiting him just a few blocks away, Barry started walking. He could hardly look forward to spending another few hours bingeing on some of his favorite shows now that he had a private detention with Mr. Burg looming ahead.
Maybe if he had made just a few more seconds of awkward conversation with Mr. Quincer, then he wouldn’t have run into Mr. Burg. Or if he had stopped to take a breath instead of rushing home in his excitement, he wouldn’t have collided with his phys ed teacher.
Heck, what if he poured another spoonful of cereal into his bowl when he was having breakfast? Then he wouldn’t have to endure Mr. Burg’s torture and miss Thea’s hangout.
But then again, those were just ifs.