Author Bio Joel T. McGrath is a proud member of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. He is a four-time top 20% choice for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award with four different manuscripts. He has sold foreign rights to his first novel through a literary agent in Turkey. Joel is currently working with a Disney illustrator on a graphic novel and hopes to release portions of the work in summer 2017. Author Links: Website | Facebook
Sweating heavily, Vincent threw the blankets off his bed. The room was dark, yet emitted sunny splices of midday heat. Beams of light shot through his blackout curtains. The temperature in the tiny, empty room rose with each passing minute. His eyes shifted back and forth beneath closed lids. He was dreaming, but not just dreaming, something eternal was guiding his dreams, feeding him purposeful, random memories of recent days.
Vincent’s eyes shifted rapidly from side to side.
Random words and pictures of his brother, Jak, his girlfriend, Noemi, and his master, Malum, sped through his mind in echoes along with his own confused thoughts and feelings. Most of all, he dreamt about that terrible night not long ago in the New York City subway station. His bitter memories and sweet dreams merged, returning nightmares upon his unconscious soul.
Vincent dreamt about the golden wheat fields. He was hand in hand with Noemi. She smiled with a sort of playful lust. He grabbed her hips and kissed her inviting lips like a man that wanted something more. He held her by the waist, but she disappeared from his hands. Falling droplets of cold rain descended from a sea of dark clouds. An ominous sky choked out the last remnants of the sun’s glimmering rays, and thunder rolled in on him.
Vincent was suddenly in a foggy haze by himself. Words and pictures floated around on all sides, but none stayed very long.
“I love you more than anything, Noemi.”
“Have you ever wanted something so badly, but no matter what, you couldn’t have it?”
“I’m the one that loved you like no one else ever could.”
“Vincent, help me!”
Suddenly, Vincent found himself in a black room and then in an abandoned subway station. The dream broke from memory for a moment, and whispers cluttered, fading low and loud in a never-ending circle.
“Noemi’s filling your head with lies.”
“She loves me. I bet that just kills you, doesn’t it, bro?”
“Stop being an arrogant little prick.”
“Don’t forget, little brother, I win. I always win!”
“Stop calling me little brother!”
“You are a lost soul in a lost world.”
“I’m not obsessed. The Shroud, the knights, they’re all lying to us.”
“Don’t go back. Malum will kill you!”
“I’m sick of your empty promises.”
“Malum’s too powerful.”
“I’m risking my life to be with you.”
“I certainly don’t need a man to save me, never mind a boy.”
“What other stuff are you hiding from me?”
“You’ve changed. Jak never treated me like this.”
“Well, I’m sorry I’m not him!”
“I bet you really did kill Jak.”
Vincent’s heart raced. He tossed and turned. His arms and legs kicked and punched the empty bed. He kept dreaming. Some things were clear while others remained jumbled
Out of their proper place and time, random memories mixed with images and insights not previously known by Vincent. It was dark, and then broken lights hummed and blinked on and off inside a deserted subway station. Vincent knew the script, yet was powerless to effect change. He knew what was coming, but he could not stop himself or warn Jak. He was trapped in a memory so real, it was haunting the conscious portion of his unconscious mind.
Vincent, sitting, held his skateboard and looked straight ahead. “Are you still mad about us?”
Jak, in a trench coat and sunglasses, at first, refused to answer. He clenched his teeth and glared sideways at his younger brother, yet took a deep breath as he put his hand on Vincent’s shoulder. “It is true. I loved her once, as she loved me. However, Noemi’s heart grew cold with deceit. Her treachery became daggers to my soul. This thing she offers you, it is a lie.”
Memories of angry, emotional banter ensued. Vincent’s dreams turned ever more distressing. He felt an upsurge of hate and rage while he slept. Pictures flashed and words shot back and forth between the brothers.
“You’re mad because we’re together now, and that’s eating you up. I can feel it.” Vincent reacted to benign comments with hasty perceptions.
Jak struggled to remain calm. “You don’t actually think you mean anything to Noemi, do you? I was always her first choice you know. She had a crush on you, little brother, but she loved me.”
“That’s a lie!”
“No, Vincent. The Shroud’s evil deceits have twisted your mind. But you are not beyond redemption. You need to be noble and have faith as you were taught by the knighthood.”
“The humans aren’t like us. Lord Malum says they are beneath us. We’re perfect. They’re not.”
“These words are not your own. They are the ramblings of a mad man who would rather see everything burn than have peace. You must see reason, little brother.”
“Poor, poor, Jak. You’ll never change. You always think you’re right about everything.”
“Vincent, your emotions are being manipulated. I feel another immortal’s presence.”
“You’re delusional. It’s all lies, lies, and more lies.”
“It is not. I swear to you.”
“It is. And you have a funny way of apologizing.”
“I cannot ask for forgiveness if you will not tell me why I should ask for it.”
“Noemi said you’d say things like that. I didn’t believe her. How stupid could I be for trusting you?”
The dream became clearer, almost coherent. Vincent wrestled with his sheet as he thrashed about. Yet no matter how much he convulsed, he kept sleeping.
Inside the subway station, Vincent clenched his jaw and flung his skateboard at Jak. He then summoned a pair of translucent red katana swords from nothing.
Jak twisted his body, avoiding the skateboard. “Do not do this. Withdraw your strikers!” he yelled.
Vincent braced for battle. His face devoid of emotion, he wrapped his fingers tightly around the swords he summoned. “You are no longer my brother. You are now my enemy.” Vincent thrust the glowing strikers toward his brother’s stomach.
Jak somersaulted backward. “I will not fight you like this!”
“Why? Is it too real? It’s one thing to play gallant knight in the confines of the temple, but it’s another thing to fight for your life. Now summon your striker or I’ll put you down like a dog.” Vincent waved his pair of translucent red, blazing strikers through the air. The heat from the blades swirled waves of trailing light as they moved.
Jak opened his palms, displaying no weapon. “I will not fight you. Why do you resent me so?”
“Get over yourself. You will fight, or you will die.” Vincent paused. “Wait. I remember. The code. What was it? Oh yeah, how did it go?”
Jak extended his hand toward his brother. “Don’t!”
Vincent smirked. “Until the last enemy…”
“Has been brought to nothing.” Jak hung his head, as he was obligated to finish the rest. “Why did you say that? I have no choice now.”
“One thing I know about the knights, they keep with tradition. Even when it kills them.”
“Tzzzztt.” Vincent’s blades hissed with electric energy.
Jak looked down, closed his eyes, and waited.
Vincent charged with a battle cry and raised strikers.
Jak summoned his translucent blue sword just as Vincent chopped his katana blades down toward his neck.
Vincent huffed. His blade radiated sparks against Jak’s sword.
Jak grit his teeth. His biceps strained from the pressure of two swords against his one. “We are family.” Jak grimaced.
“Stop pretending that you care!” Vincent shouted. “You don’t know anything about me!”
Jak grunted. “You have a choice.” Vincent’s strength pushed him to the ground. “We all have a choice. No matter what others might have us believe.”
“I… I want to…” Vincent felt an emotional tug, and in his heart, there arose a conflict.
Jak’s arms started to weaken from fatigue. “Good, now remove your strikers so we can talk.”
At that moment, Vincent also sensed a presence urging him onward. “Lord Malum will…”
“Do not fear Malum, for he is no lord. His only true power lies in the illusion of fear,” Jak said. “Come now, release your grip,” he urged his brother, “and let us talk of a reunion like in times gone past.”
“I don’t want to talk anymore! You always get your way, and I’m sick of it!” Vincent pressed his strikers harder.
Jak soared backward. “That is enough! I am not indulging you any longer. You are nothing more than an ill-tempered child. I will drag you home if I have to.” Jak charged toward his younger brother with a determined, focused stride.
The blades of the brothers clashed together in violent fury, causing an onslaught of blue and red sparks. The mystic currents sizzled and hissed with each violent blow of the swords. A transcendent clash between two immortals began in a mortal world that was ill-prepared for what was secretly unleashed upon it.
Vincent was relentless. He kicked and swung his blades repeatedly.
Jak fended off Vincent’s overcharged, explosive attacks. He coiled his entire body through the air, landing with a knee to his younger brother’s stomach.
Vincent fell on the ground. He cradled his abdomen. He spread his fingers and reached out to the side. He moved his hand toward his brother, causing a trashcan to fly toward Jak, who promptly sliced the solid metal container in two.
“Is that the best you can do, little brother? Because I have to say, I am not impressed.” Jak casually walked toward Vincent who remained sitting on the grimy subway floor. “Why do you not remember all of the good times that we had growing up together? All of this just for a girl…”
Vincent interrupted. “She’s not just a girl to me. Maybe Noemi was just some girl to you, but not to me. And for the record, you had way more good times than I did.” Vincent hid his tears. “Maybe this will impress you!” Lying on his back, he reached into the air, straining his entire body until his skin reddened and quivered. With invisible power, Vincent pulled the broken subway lights and some of the ceiling down on top of Jak. The concrete piled over him with dust and debris several feet high.
“Shrak-ak-ak-a. Screeech. Shrak-ak-ak-a. Screeech” The faint sounds of a distant train broke the eerie silence.
Vincent, shocked by his own powers, withdrew his blades and rushed toward the pile of debris. “Jak, Jak, are you all right? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” The fear in his voice resembled that of a younger brother rather than a mighty equal. He frantically dug through the mess.
A bloody hand reached up and grabbed his arm. Jak emerged from the pile of dust, fragments of ceiling, and shattered glass that covered him. Miniscule drops of crimson red flowed along his sleeve, down his pinky finger, and dripped off his hand as globules of deep rose blush on the ground. Jak seized his brother by the arm, easily lifting him off his feet. Without hesitation, he abruptly threw Vincent across the subway floor.
The momentum carried Vincent until he skidded off the safe confines of the platform and plummeted onto the tracks.
Jak looked down at his trench coat and dismissively flapped it off. Clouds of chalky, powdery dust consumed him. He coughed and hacked from the concentrated residue that engulfed his senses. “If you will not stop this petty rivalry, I will.” Jak, so preoccupied, failed to see how Vincent had fallen onto the tracks and into the path of the oncoming train. “I see the Shroud has taught you a couple of new tricks. But they are simply that, tricks. You are no more a match for me now than before, little brother.” He coughed and kept dusting his clothes off.
As the train neared, the sound captured Jak’s attention. He looked up and saw his brother slumped over on the tracks.
Vincent was semi-conscious. “Aeeee. Agggh.” He rolled and moaned.
“Vincent, wake up! Come on, little brother! Get off the tracks!”
The lights of the train filled the dark tunnel ahead.
Vincent groaned. He blinked through a set of blurry eyes. He sluggishly shook his head, but stared idly at the train. Finally recognizing the imminent danger, he staggered to his feet. Yet, he remained between the tracks as the train barreled toward him.
Jak ran to the edge of the platform. “You are injured. Give me your hand!” Jak got down on his hands and knees. “Whatever you do, do not touch the third rail or you will get electrocuted!”
Vincent slowly reached for his brother’s hand as Jak extended it toward him. He squinted at Jak’s hand and then withdrew his. He looked behind at the third rail and up at the oncoming train. His eyes remained fixed on the train’s glaring light. “No, Jak. I can’t let you win again. I’ve worked too hard for this. I won’t let you have Noemi. Unlike you and the other immortals, I’m not afraid to die.” He briefly paused. “That’s why I’ll win this time.”
“Stop it! Just stop it!” Jak shouted, pounding his fist against the concrete platform. “This has gone on long enough! If you want to win so badly, then fine, you win!” His arm nervously shook as he reached his hand out again.
“I can’t win like that. Not like that.” His face lost all emotion. “No, today, I’m taking what’s mine.”
Vincent reached over and gripped the third rail, causing the train to jump its tracks and slam the subway wall. The ground quaked. The lights blacked out in the station. Then they flashed on and off before bursting like sparklers. The lights popped one after another in grand fashion.
Slowly, and with a painful wince, Vincent screamed as he pushed his free hand toward Jak. Seven hundred and fifty volts of electricity exploded from Vincent’s hand, and he directed a thick, electrified current at his brother.
Jak summoned his striker and deflected the massive surge. The electricity parted, blasting the sides of the walls behind him.
“KA-BOOOMMM!” A deafening pop thundered through the station and resonated up to the streets above, shattering windows and tripping car alarms as sound waves pulsed throughout the city.
Vincent released another wave of voltage. It pushed Jak beyond his physical limit, forcing him backward from the platform’s ledge. Beneath Jak’s feet, the cement floor buckled and the ceramic tiles busted like a series of spastic dominos until he was pinned against the far wall at the back end of the station.
“Ha! Do you like that?” Vincent laughed devilishly. “You never respected me! But after today, you’ll never win again!” He pushed even more lightning bolts toward Jak. “You’ll have to go home and tell them that you were beaten by your little brother. Everyone will see that you’re not so perfect after all.”
Jak’s blue striker crystallized from the intense heat of the electric bolts. “Aaaahh!” he screamed. He tried to deflect the powerful torrents.
“You are nothing!” Vincent yelled.
Jak wheezed with the last of his strength. His words strained from the bottom of his diaphragm to the tip of his tongue. “It is a shame. Your first victory will be our last moment as brothers.” His face tightened. His brows merged. Moisture soaked his forehead. His knuckles whitened around his striker. His muscles locked up. “You need to know two things.” Jak paused to catch his breath. “I love you. I always have… Aaaahh!” A chilling scream bellowed forth before he could finish.
Vincent’s anger softened once he had won. He tried to release the rail and stop the flow of electricity, but something from beyond held his hand on the track. He vigorously struggled to let go, but it seemed an invisible force kept his hand there against his will.
Jak’s power met its limits. His striker could no longer take the electrical assault. It exploded into fragments of tiny blue shards. The lightning bolts devoured him.
Everything went dark as Vincent collapsed.
A strange, uneasy silence fell.
Face down, Vincent clumsily groped his way through the pitch-black tunnel. With a remorseful tone, he called out to his brother. “Jak, I’m sorry.” He began to stutter. “I was just… I don’t know… I was being stupid and mad about dumb stuff. I’ve never felt that kind of anger before. I didn’t know what I was doing. I swear. I’m really, really sorry. ANSWER ME!”
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