Warning: This work has been rated 16+.
Mateo jumped in the haze of sleep as the scream of the school bell resonated through the classroom. The desk was hard and cold under his head. Bug, who sat right by him, had an amused look on his face.
“You’re the only person I know that can actually fall asleep on a desk,” he commented as he put on his backpack.
“Well I didn’t think I’d sleep all class,” Mateo replied as he hurriedly gathered his things. He had left his notebook and pencil on his desk, thinking that he would’ve drawn. Mateo couldn’t help but notice his science teacher’s glare as he and Bug filed out of the door.
“You’ve been looking pretty tired lately, you good?”
Mateo panicked a bit internally, searching for an answer that was casual and lighthearted.
“Aren’t I always?”
“Yea, that’s true,” Bug then added, “maybe you’ve got insomnia or narcolepsy or something. Sleeping almost every class isn’t normal--or well, I guess the three we have together.”
It had been a week since they all had explored the Sacred Heart school and nothing much had happened--except when he was home alone. A terrifying dread would take control of his body and mind. Even if he lay with his eyes closed, visions and memories of hallucinations would flash through his mind. Especially the gold eye. He could most vividly recall its striking color. He too could remember the hundreds of eyes on the forest trees as they rocked and shook in agony.
Normally he would be extra self-conscious, observing and listening to everything around him. The strange tome he found in the forest a week ago suddenly felt much heavier in his backpack. He had been carrying it with him to school now in fear that his mother would search his room and find it.
“I gotta walk home today instead of taking the bus. I’m sure you already figured that out though,” Bug’s voice popped in. Mateo had just realized that they had reached the double door exit. He kept on his poker face, agreeing that he had totally known. He didn’t want to sabotage Bug’s image of him being smarter and capable than Mateo let on.
The humid air rushed to feed off Mateo cold’s skin as they exited the school.
“Yea...it’s too bad you’re going a separate way. It’s so hot today.” Bug laughed before even speaking and Mateo could tell he was about to say something he found funny.
“Uh-huh, I’ll go jump in the Hoggtown swamp-creek by the road if I get too hot.”
Mateo grinned and retorted with a joke, "and it's Sognore's only swimming pool, too."
“Anyways, ya want to just come over? I know you’re probably struggling in a bunch of classes. If your mom’s fine with it.”
The weight of the tome in Mateo’s backpack felt like a brick. His shoulders felt like they were collapsing under the weight. He knew that Bug probably still had that woman’s school ID that they had found in the abandoned school. Fear coiled through his stomach.
“Ah.., I’m grounded actually. I don’t know why but she’s been really strict lately,” he paused, then said, “probably ‘cause I’m failing.” Mateo added a casual smile with his words to not worry him. More than ever he felt it was necessary to be careful and light with his speech.
A sour taste gathered at the back of his mouth.
“Oh alright, lemme know when you’re off.”
Mateo began to feel bad for lying so easily. He could still vividly remember Bug dropping the vial of blood on the painted sigil on the ground. The solid floor had opened as some fleshy, seemingly alive hole.
I’ll never go to that stupid Sacred Heart school again.
His mind countered Mateos' thoughts with a witty response.
You can never say no to Yasmin. Let's see how long you keep up your promise never to drugs again.
Mateo tried to ignore it, but he couldn't help but secretly feel that it was right.
Bug crouched down and began to shift through his backpack, pulling out a bunch of organized folders.
“Found them! These are all the recent notes for the classes we’re in--,” he paused to shuffle them into order, “science, math, and history.”Mateo looked down at the notes Bug practically shoved into his hands in awe.
“Really? Thanks--I mean, you don’t think you need these? Are you sure?”
“Nah, nah, it’s all good. Don’t worry about it. It would really suck if you had to get held back.”
“Thanks so much. I’ll read it all and try to memorize all I can, really I will.” Mateo carefully tucked them into an open notebook.
“Right, well I gotta head off before I die of this heat.” Bug did a quick salute and walked off.
Mateo felt oddly excited about the bundle of notes Bug had given him. Feeling happy about schoolwork was incredibly ironic. The piles of never-ending homework from his six classes was so overwhelming he never bothered. Yet, as of now, any distraction would be a good distraction.
He allowed his eyes to wander and roam the lines of trailers and old homes. To see the rundown homes in full detail without plastering his eyes to the ground felt strange. The trailer park’s sign read: Happy Trails Adult Park Cottages. The first few times he had passed by it walking home he had laughed his ass off, but now it had become a horrendous sight. An acrid taste rose in the back of his mouth. His shoulders began to sag under the weight of his backpack.
He stopped by a chain-link fence and leaned his backpack against it as he pulled out crumpled pieces of paper. Mateo’s eyes lingered on the uncomfortable sight of the black book. He grabbed it by its corner and unearthed it from the darkness and into the light.
A loud bark crashed through the wall of silence. Mateo’s body instinctively jumped from fright, his heart leaping out of his chest. The book fell from his hands and onto the ground with a resonating thump. A black mass hurtled at the fence and its weight barreled against the weak border. He stumbled backward, tripping over a loose stone and fell back.
“Shit, shit!” he exclaimed under his breath. His thoughts dashed for a way to get both his backpack and the book back. Mateo looked up to see a car parked in the driveway. He could only assume that the owner was home and they’d probably come out from all the noise.
If they have a dog like this, they've gotta be crazy. It’s probably a crackhouse.
The dog’s eyes boiled with fury and its maw snapped between spaces of the fence. Mateo restrained his ill-suited smile. He sat there for a while, feeling like some blank-minded automaton. Mateo’s heart beat a little faster at his mind’s sudden suggestion. He stuck his leg out, hooking his foot under the book and kicking it with as much force as possible. He felt strangely excited.
Now the problem would be getting everything else. He prepared to take a risky grab for his backpack just as the slam of a door resonated in the air. Quickly Mateo jumped up and tried to stand normally, even though he knew they’d probably already seen him on the ground. The dog continued to snarl, though it no longer bashed its head against the fence.
“Ay! Lucy, get over here!” The man whistled and the dog retreated and trotted to his side.
That thing is called Lucy? He thought to address the man before he even got to him, but any potential words to say got caught in his throat. Mateo expected to see a skinny junkie or a shady dude, but the man looked fairly normal. He looked to only be in his early 20’s and his dreads were tied into a ponytail. Mateo felt even more intimidated when he got close. The man was at least four inches taller than him. He shut the gate of the chain fence behind him.
“Terribly sorry about that. Go ahead and pick up your stuff, she won’t do anything now.”Not knowing what to say, Mateo only responded with a thanks. He couldn’t determine whether the feeling of burning eyes on his back as he picked up the book was only paranoia. The man stood in silence as Mateo gathered his things and readied to pick up his backpack.
A tight coldness enveloped Mateo’s wrist. His breath froze in his chest, yet his heart hammered against his ribs. What he thought to be the shaking of his own body was something else entirely.
“That thing. That book, what is it?” Mateo’s hands tightened as he held the book close to his body.
Be normal. It’s nothing, it’s normal.
“Ah, it’s just a notebook from class. I’ve never really used it.” The sudden realization of the man actually being able to see the tome threatened to expose the chaos of Mateo’s panic. Yasmin didn’t see it all; even when he carried it with him.
He expected the grip around his wrist to loosen and fall away. The tome shook like a volcano about to erupt and Mateo’s instinct screamed at him to break free. In the midst of the adrenaline, he met eyes with the man’s.
Half of his face was eclipsed in shadow and a faint grin curled on the side of his mouth. His entire body was immovable, though his face was the most alive of all. The man’s visible eye blankly stared ahead, yet a radiation of hatred hid behind it. Scalding air flooded through his ears in the form of words.
“Mateo. You are going to find Ekene for me. I have been searching for her spirit for so long, yet…”
The man’s lips did not move. He could feel the presence of the words, as though someone was whispering right next to him. Danger crawled through every inch of his being and despite the desperate pounding of his heart, Mateo did nothing.
“Remember that name. Ekene. You are going to find her spirit, Mateo. My mother surely walks this deadland alone.”
The voice was gritty and feminine. He held onto the quaking book as though it were his only lifeline in a deep and treacherous sea. Mateo couldn’t deny the presence of power that surrounded him from every angle.
“And if you cannot find her, I’ll dig five graves for you and all of your friends,” the voice hissed like hot coals, “a substitute payment.”
His heart rammed against his chest. The words were a blade that cut through the thick storm of his panic. They were too horrible to even process. Using all the strength in his body to not let the tome fly out of his arms was all he had left.
“You’re a coward to not use what you have, boy. In two month’s time.” The voice funneled into a sharp silence and the bubble of slowed time around Mateo broke. The black dog barked ferociously and without stopping; he hadn’t even realized it had been this entire time.
The man looked down on him with a sly smile. Mateo foolishly stood frozen, his mind incapable of processing what had just happened. His mind hesitated but his body jumped into action. He ran and ran, the book cradled in his arm. The gravel road stretched out before him and grew wider the further he went. The sun bore down on his skin and burned through his clothes, though he didn’t stop for a second.
The orange blot of his home appeared in the distance and he stumbled over his own shoelaces. Mateo’s vision had become blurry and spots dotted the edges of his sight. By now his adrenaline spike was over and all he could do was look over his shoulder. Mateo swindled his body completely, his eyes scanning each and every speck around him.
All he wanted to do was sit down in the middle of the road; for the world to pause for a little while. Instead he made his way up to the door and ignored the brush of Bromi’s tail against his dirty pants. A half-empty cheap liquor bottle lay on the kitchen counter but his mother was nowhere in sight. Mateo collapsed onto his small, twin bed and curled his body into a ball. He still clutched the book close to him. A subtle chill started in his fingertips and ran through his arms as he opened its pages. His focus drifted and a thought about Bug’s notes rose in his mind. Mateo’s eyes widened and a seize of shock ran through his body.
“I forgot...my backpack,” Mateo mouthed the words to himself, “I don’t have his notes.” He thumbed the blank pages back and forth unconsciously. The man’s critical voice echoed in his head. That thing. That book, what is it? The warmth of the unconditioned, muggy air and the hug of his sheets felt so distant from the earlier coldness. Even so, he still remembered the arctic chill in his bones.
The words spoken by the womanly voice wandered meaninglessly in his mind. Exhaustion was all that dominated his body and thoughts. A droplet fell on the tome’s page and Mateo didn’t bother to wipe his eye. His lids slowly began to fall as he stared at the bottom of his bed and the dark brown sheets hanging over it. A slithering feeling wound through his hands and up his arms. His eyes opened slightly, though Mateo didn’t make the effort to fully open them.
The book shook lightly in his grasp, yet it wasn’t violent like before. It were as if he held an injured bird in the cup of his hand. His tear spread and wet the entire page. The damp page reminded him of his first contact with the book and his struggle to tear away from its strange cords on the wet tile. The dim memory made him more alert, though he didn’t bother to close the book. Lines of text revealed themselves one by one. Mateo sluggishly took in the words despite the faint electricity coursing through his veins.
“This kabalistic knowledge is a teaching artifact concerning the origin of the universe and man’s proper relation to God and all other entities, and why man has entered this cage of material conditions. He may partake through the Tree of Good and Evil…”
The words shifted on and off the page and his muddled mind struggled to understand what they meant.
“...and ultimately regain his spiritual estate and partake of the Tree of Life, and so attain Self-Conscious-Immortality. From the children of the Golden Age, this tradition relates, this information handed down from patron to human...“
The text moved up and down like waves on the water from his tear. Mateo couldn’t bear to try to make sense of it all. The guilt of losing Bug’s notes encouraged him to sleep it away. He pulled the blankets over his head, allowing the book to drop exposed on the floor. The small feeling of safety the darkness gave him was enough to fall asleep.