Broken Pieces

Jack Templar Monster Hunter: The Templar Chronicles: Book One by Jeff Gunhus (Excerpt)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Chapter Two

At first, the monster appeared to be just a normal man walking toward me. I didn’t recognize him, but like I said earlier, Sunnyvale was a nice, quiet town, so there was no reason for me to be suspicious. I was just running by him, enjoying my newfound speed, when this guy stuck his foot out and tripped me.

I tumbled headfirst toward the cement. I was going down hard and I knew that hitting that sidewalk was going to hurt. Bad.

But then the weirdest thing happened. Without thinking, I twisted my body in midair, reached out and found the ground with my hands, spring-boarded off the cement and landed back on my feet, staring at the stranger who had tripped me.

I mean, it was like I had turned into an Olympic gymnast or something.

The stranger looked at me curiously, only mildly impressed by my tumbling skills. I wanted to demand why he had tripped me, but one good look at him and I somehow knew better than to say anything. I felt a chill pass through my body and my skin dimpled over in goose-bumps.  I felt a little dizzy and I had to fight down a sudden impulse to turn and run. Whoever this guy was, every fiber in my body was telling me that he was bad news. I should have listened to my instinct and just gotten out of there, but I couldn’t stop myself from staring at him.

The stranger was pale white, with long, colorless, almost transparent hair down to his shoulders. His face was angular, with high cheekbones and a squared chin. I thought he might be an albino, because his eyes were a blue so pale that they seemed colorless. He wore an old-fashioned duster jacket that hung down to his knees and covered black trousers and heeled, leather boots.  The outfit made him look like he had stepped out of a different time.

And then there were his hands. They were too long for his body and each finger was capped with a long black fingernail. He raised one of his weird hands in my direction and pointed one of those long black fingernails at me.

“Good,” the stranger hissed, “your change has begun. It will make things more fun when we find you tomorrow.”

Then the stranger smiled and that’s when I saw them. Long, pointed canine teeth, just like the vampires have in the movies. I couldn’t believe it, but not for the reason you’re thinking. At this point, I had no reason to believe that I was looking at a real-life vampire, so I assumed the teeth were fakes…and that the guy was a total freak. It’s one thing to see people walking around town as vampires on Halloween. But when they did that in the month of September, it was just plain creepy. No wonder I had goose-bumps.

I decided that I had seen enough of Mr. Weirdo. I backed up slowly, then turned and got the heck out of there. I heard the man laugh softly as I ran away, but I didn’t stop to look back; I just ran as hard as I could to school and got myself to class.

The school day passed even slower than usual. I tried to focus but all I could think about were my new abilities. On top of that, Mr. Weirdo’s comment kept rumbling around in my head. The more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that somehow the stranger had known about what was happening to my body. Your change has begun. But how could he have known? What was my change? And if it had only just begun, what was going to happen next? Just how much was I going to change?

More importantly, since he got the part about my change right, I started to worry that there was truth to his other comment: It will make things more fun when we find you tomorrow. I had no idea what that meant, but it certainly didn’t sound good.

I decided to keep all this to myself until I could figure out what was really going on. It was pretty easy to keep it a secret for the first half of the day, but then lunchtime came around.

Usually, I sit with the same two guys at lunch. Will Akers and T-Rex Boyle. In the hierarchy of middle school popularity, I’d say my crew fell right in the middle. OK, maybe a little below the middle. We weren’t the super cool kids that everyone immediately identified as school royalty, but we weren’t part of the geek squad either.

Well, maybe T-Rex was, but we liked him anyway. He lived with his ancient grandma who insisted on making his clothes for him. Her eyesight wasn’t so good and her hands shook, so the outfits he wore sometimes looked like a berserk machine sewed them. T-Rex was chubby, almost to the point of being completely round. While that alone set him up to get picked on by some of the jerks in school, what really did him in was the way he picked his nose all the time.

It was a nervous habit for him, but he did it so much that we all wondered what he was looking for up there.  Those two holes were mined so many times an hour that there just couldn’t be any nuggets left to dig out. Still, that didn’t stop him from doing it.  One day, Will started calling him ‘T-Rex’. You know how a T-Rex has those itty-bitty arms? Will decided that if only he was a T-Rex, then he wouldn’t be able to reach his nose and all his problems would go away. When his grandma started calling him T-Rex too, we laughed about it for an entire afternoon and the name stuck.

T-Rex was still in line when Will and I headed off to our usual table in the corner of the lunchroom. I say usual, but Will was often in detention instead of the lunchroom. He was constantly in trouble because his mouth ran full-time and typically went twice the speed of his brain.  You know how sometimes inappropriate things come into your head but a little voice stops you from blurting it out because you know it might be rude? Well, Will didn’t have that little voice. He just let it all out there.

My Aunt Sophie said Will had short-man’s disease, a diagnosis that had me worried when I first heard it. I thought she was talking about an actual illness eating away inside of him. But then I Goggled it and got a good laugh at it. All it meant was that short people sometimes over-compensated for their size by being really aggressive.

Will was one of the shortest, if not the shortest, kid in our grade. Heck, probably in the grade below us too. But in his mind, he was the tallest guy on campus. And he had big plans for himself. His goals knew no bounds. He didn’t want to make the football team; he wanted to be the MVP. He didn’t want to be a millionaire; he wanted to be a billionaire.

And, you know what? Listening to him talk about it, you believed him. Whatever Will lacked in height, he more than made up for in confidence. He was like a miniature pit bull, small but with a big bite.

But there was another side to Will that most people, not even the teachers, knew about. He lived at home with his dad since his mom had taken off a few years ago. And there was not a single good thing to say about Will’s dad. He mostly stayed to himself, locked up in their house as it slowly fell into disrepair, the weeds waist high in the front yard, the family car a rusting hulk in the driveway. The only way I knew Will’s dad was still around was that Will would show up for school with a fresh row of bruises up and down his arm.

That day was one of those days. Dark, nasty marks covered his upper arm and neck. I nodded to them and Will shrugged and pulled his sleeve down. “The old man’s still pretty quick when he’s angry,” he said.

“You should tell someone,” I said.

“Same old crap. I can handle it,” he said. “I just can’t wait to get out of here, you know? That’s all I want.”

“We’ll go together,” I said. “You pick the college.”

“College?” Will laughed. “Are you trying to be a good influence on me or something? Besides, of course I’m going to college. I’m just not sure you’ll be able to get into the ones I’ll get into.”

We shared a laugh. We both knew Will’s report cards seemed actually allergic to As and Bs. Oh, he was smart, maybe too smart for his own good. It was just that his intelligence wasn’t the kind that could be measured well with standardized tests. He was street smart though. And he was tough.

“Sometimes I wonder if I can wait that long, you know? Sometimes I just want to hitch a ride and just go. Anywhere but here. Anywhere at all.” Will poked at his food, lost to his thoughts. I knew that he could use a distraction.

“Want to hear something crazy?” I asked.

I described my morning of lifting weights, speed running, dunking basketballs, and meeting total weirdoes. When I was done, I waited as Will thought over everything I had told him.

“That was cool,” he said. “Can you tell me a story about a giant and a beanstalk next?”

“You don’t get it,” I said. “I’m not making this up. This all actually happened.”

“You’re so full of crap,” Will said.

“No, I’m telling you the truth,” I said. “It’s kind of freaking me out.”

“OK, let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’re not a huge liar.”

“That’s big of you,” I said.

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Genre – Middle Grade / YA Fantasy

Rating – PG

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