Ward of New Dawn (probably to be changed)
Death was never something to fear for herself, she knew. For all of her kind, the embrace of eternity had almost appealed.
There were so many, though, who depended upon her. She knew that this, too, was a hollow concern, for all things were taken into account. The moment her heart ceased to beat, her charges were out of her hands and into another’s. One just as capable, one just as worthy. The Hand would never choose one less than able to protect the sacred world. She herself had been honored, once she learned to accept its existence.
Everything should have denied it.
She stared up at the pale sky, relishing the cool breeze upon her face, the damp grass beneath her back. The sun was setting, casting its brilliantly colored tendrils across the great expanse of the sky. It glowed across her peaceful face as she lay dying, gradually weakening as time carved away at her grievous wounds.
They were safe for now. Until her heir followed, they would have to fend for themselves. It would not be long.
She drew in a sharp breath as a violent wave of pain washed over her, leaving her one the edge of consciousness.
Right. It would not be long.
Every agonized breath was worth their lives.
It would not be long now.
Her breath stopped.
Soon. Very soon.
The Hand would usher in the next Ward of New Dawn.
“And the electoral college was installed for-”
The bell rang. Mr. Pope sighed in relief, shoving his class outline away and rubbing his eyes beneath his glasses.
“Thank God. I really didn’t want to explain why we have an electoral college.”
The class laughed on cue. The professor waved a dismissive hand.
“Okay, guys, the homework is on the syllabus, and remember we’ve got midterms coming up in two weeks. I promise, I’ll make the electoral college sound appealing enough to master. Get out of here.”
The teens clattered to their feet, grabbing at notebooks and pencils and backpacks. Mr. Pope shuffled through the folders of multi-page essays and a familiar name caught his eye. He looked up at the congregation of students and picked out the owner of the name.
The seventeen year old swung his backpack over his shoulder, trotting down the stairs to come to Mr. Pope’s desk. The professor felt a glow of pride in studying the young man. If any of his students had turned out right, it was John Fletcher. Tall and narrow with sinewy muscles beneath his characteristic dark jeans, grey Vans, purple t-shirt, and black leather hooded jacket. His dark hair was gelled and combed to perfection so that a bulldozer could not have disrupted it. His blue-hazel eyes were wide and alert and sparking with intelligence. Not only intelligent, but with the cool “in-crowds”, chief editor of yearbook, president of the mathletes, and first running-back for the football team.
He was the epitome of a model student.
“Yes, sir?” the boy prompted, eyebrows raised quizzically. Mr. Pope tapped his folder.
“I really enjoyed reading your essay. It’s clear you put a lot of thought into it.”
John smiled with a little shrug. “I try not to turn in anything that didn’t have any thought. I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
“I could see you with a future in some form of government. John, have you ever considered an internship?”
His smile slowly faded and he frowned thoughtfully. “Um...no, I haven’t. I guess I’ve been a little preoccupied with the SAT and college applications coming up.”
“That’s understandable, and if it would be too much on your plate don’t do it. I’d like you to consider it, though. Our Assemblymember always needs intelligent minds and willing hands.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, Mr. Pope. Thanks for mentioning it.”
“Anytime. Let me know what you end up deciding. I’ll see you later.”
John nodded and moved out the door into the frenzying hall as teens rushed for the doors and home. There was a football game the next day and everyone wanted to get their homework done in preparation. Two arms snaked around his middle as he moved to his locker and he jumped in shock, laughing as he spun around and wrapped his arms around Kelsey, quite possibly the most beautiful girl in school and his happy girlfriend all three years of high-school.
“I was worried you got in trouble,” she muttered in his ear. John scoffed, breathing in the light almond scent that somehow always accompanied her. Maybe it was the shampoo she used. Her waist length hickory hair was impossibly soft. “Why’d Mr. Pope ask you to stay behind?”
He looked down to meet her wonderful, azure blue eyes. “Apparently, he likes my government work. Wants me to go into government myself.”
Her fine eyebrows shot up. “Oh really? Do you have time for that?”
“Eh. I believe that, if it’s worth it, time will make itself.”
“You sounded all philosophical there.”
“I have my moments.”
She grinned and kissed his cheek. John closed his eyes briefly. They had never gone for those full-on lip locks that the rest of the school seemed to enjoy. Both John and Kelsey believed in the small displays of affection. If it was true love, they would be enough.
John knew he loved Kelsey. College would come and go, but he intended to ask her to marry him once he was able, once it made sense. Slow and steady won the race, and he was ready to run to the finish. Kelsey was worth it.
Brody Seinz jerked his head in an unmistakable gesture.
“Coach is waiting for us.”
“Right.” John kissed Kelsey’s hand. “I’ll pick you up for the game tomorrow.”
“Cool. I’ll see you then. Love you.”
“Love you, too.” He sprinted to join his best friend at the end of the hall. The enormously built African-American shoved the wiry boy’s shoulder.
“You, boy, are a love machine.”
John made a face. “That is a gross term, you know. It implies a lot.”
“Yeah, don’t need any of that, do we? Get suited up; coach and everybody are waiting on the field.”
“Be out in a minute.”
John sprinted to the men’s locker room and hurriedly changed into gym shorts, his shoulder pads, jersey, and cleats. Football practice every single day, not to mention his extra-curricular martial arts and bouldering kept him in ship-shape. He liked exercising. He rarely felt so good about himself and everybody else as when he was moving. In every other situation, he could be lauded for exemplary behavior and performance, but it was only when he was struggling for something - fighting for something - that he felt real.
Something about this practice, though, seemed off. John watched the other players carefully as they ran drill after drill, attacking punching bags and tossing passes across yards. They all performed with as much dedication as ever. Coach O’Delancey barked as insistently as always, the whistle clenched between his perfectly squared teeth, hands on his hips, feet braced at least two feet apart. Even the assistant coach had his ever-present bag of hot cheetos in hand as he encouraged the Senior Varsity teens to bend lower in their push-ups. There was nothing wrong, nothing out of place as he usually felt throughout the rest of the day. This was supposed to be where everything was right, and it was. John pulled his helmet off and scrubbed a hand through his gelled hair. His skin was clammy. Why did he feel so wrong?
He glanced sidelong at Martin Vasquez as the kicker loped towards him, grinning.
“You totally missed Grant’s pass! He made that sixty yard pass, and you know what that means!”
“Yeah,” John sighed. “I owe you ten dollars.”
Martin cocked his head, his smile fading a little. “Um...you don’t look nearly as disappointed as I anticipated. You okay, man? You look a little...or really pale.”
“No, I’m okay.” He wiped his face with the collar of his jersey. He was sweating and could not seem to breath right. “You know what, I actually don’t feel so good.”
“You don’t look so good. Go talk to coach and go home. Isaac needs the scrimmage practice anyway.”
John nodded, swallowing as he crossed the field to O’Delancey. The coach flicked his chin at him as he approached.
“You look like you lost a bet.” he stated through teeth clenched around the prized whistle. “What’s up, chachi?”
His sight was blurring and John blinked hard. It didn’t help. “I’m not feeling so hot.”
Coach nodded emphatically with crinkled eyebrows, spitting out his whistle so it dangled on his chest. “You’re sweatin’ up a storm. Shower up and go home. I need you on top of your game for tomorrow night.”
“Sure thing, coach.” He tried to smile, but it made him feel sick. He settled with a half nod and trudged back towards the locker rooms. Something was very wrong.
He showered and dressed again, swinging his leather jacket around his shoulders and slinging his backpack over his shoulder as he moved out to his car. The sun was setting and the sky glowed an ethereal pink, contrasting sharply with the bright orange and musty brown of the leaves gently drifting from the oak trees lining the street. The street lights were just beginning to come on, doing little to permeate the dusk dimness. John drew his car keys out of his pocket and aimed the point into the door lock. His hand shook. He clenched his jaw and thrust it forward forcefully. It scratched an angry bolt across the new black paint.
John meant to release a sigh, but it erupted as a roar and his arm seemed to move of its own volition as he violently hurled the keys across the parking lot and into the bushes somewhere. He froze, staring at his still extended hand.
It was not often that he succumbed to frustration, but then it usually involved in writing a very strongly worded essay or breaking a pencil. This was something different.
Something he had certainly not planned out.
He straightened. The cool autumn breeze filled his jacket and riffled through his sweat slicked hair. He reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out his phone, dialing with a trembling thumb. He held it to his ear, listening to the ring. Four times. Five times.
“Hi, you’ve reached Mindy’s phone! I’m unable to answer now, but leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”
“Hey, Mom, it’s me.” John turned back to lean his elbows on the roof of his car, burying his forehead in his forearms. “There’s...there’s something wrong with me. I don’t know what. I mean, I might be sick, but it doesn’t feel like that. It’s like...I forgot something that I’m supposed to remember...and it’s something important and...and sad.” He drew in a sharp breath and leaned his chin on his wrist, staring back out over the street. Even as he stared, his eyes filmed with unbidden tears. Everything blurred. “Like I don’t belong here.” Too many emotions. Way too dramatic, especially for his mom. He cleared his throat. “Anyway, I know you’re out till late, you and your ladies getting your book club on,” He chuckled dryly. “So I’ll see you later. I’m coming home early. Love you. A lot.”
He hung up. The contact photo of his mother lingered for another second. A wide faced woman with full, dark hair and a smiling mouth. There was a poinsettia in her hair, as always. It reminded her of John’s father, she had always said. She never explained why.
The picture faded.
The street lights flared in enveloping fluorescence and John yelped in shock, dropping his phone and backpedaling violently into his car. He felt its solid presence vanish beneath him and he fell, down through a vacuum of light and nothing. Now, he did not scream.
Finally, everything felt right.