Eric threw his left arm over his patched eye as Russ, his martial arts and court-appointed father, threw a punch aimed half a foot from Eric.
“Whoa,” Russ said. “This is just practice. You’re not
going to get hurt.”
“My father,” Eric sputtered. It was the best explanation
he could think of. He’d seen his biological father punch more times than he could count and he never aimed for air. That was why Eric wore an eye-patch and his father deserved prison.
The patch was temporary the team of supposed experts
charged with helping him in his father’s absence told him. Usually they elaborated and said it covered everything else. He wouldn’t get adopted, but he’d get used to foster care and his classmates would forget that he wore an eye-patch, while in reality, their pirate jokes were the only part of his life that felt normal. His eye never seemed to get better and he couldn’t call Russ a father.
Every Saturday, Russ and Dannah took Eric to a coffee
shop. It was another adjustment, one with a few unpleasant consequences, including a hot chocolate-induced stomachache and a sip of coffee so acrid the taste remained in Eric’s mouth for days. But once Eric discovered peppermint tea, he began to adjust to the ritual until a boy, surrounded by his family, pointed at him.
“Is that boy koia?” the boy asked his mother.
“Don’t judge,” the woman Eric presumed was his mother
Don’t point, his mother should have said. It’s rude.
She said nothing while his finger stayed up although Eric
had been identified.
“Is he?” the boy asked again. “He’s got something on his
“That’s because he hurt it and he’s kaien. Koia can’t
get into this city, but kaien are just as breakable as koia.”
That wasn’t how she should have described it. Koia were
the uninitiated, those who knew nothing of magic while Kaien knew and coexisted with them.
“Aren’t you glad you’re not koia?” his older sister- or
Eric thought she was- asked.
The boy nodded vigorously.
Russ turned to Eric. “Eltriani think they know
everything because they know how to fight. But they’re wrong.”
Eric looked back at the family. According to the people
appointed to care for him by the state, everyone in power was wrong. Eric wanted strength and wondered if all Eltriani were oblivious to pain and out of his reach.
Eight years later, Eric learned that he didn’t want to
see weakness reflected in an Eltrian.
“This is the sixth month I’ve stayed completely sober,”
Kira Ross said. “First time in years.”
“Micah’s known you for years,” Eric said. “You must have
had it pretty controlled if he never mentioned alcohol.”
“I could get down to once a week most of the time. It
didn’t look enough like a problem for anyone to say anything.”
Kira sat down on the flatbed of Eric’s truck. She was
rich but Eric’s pick-up truck never seemed to bother her. She just accepted it. Her acceptance only pushed Eric harder.
“Why?” Eric asked. “You’re-.”
“-The sister of a domestic abuse victim. But I’m not a
victim and I’m not even sure why. I just- sometimes I had to do something besides watch.”
“But it was Kristen, right? She got out.”
So had Kyle but only Kristen’s whereabouts were
confirmed. She was completely irresponsible yet self-sufficient and there was nothing to worry about. Kyle had disappeared. His outdated photos had taken up residence on television, but it didn’t bring him back.
Kira shook her head. “The only son.”
After the fifth honk on the eighth day, Kira opened the
door and strutted down the stairs in a revealing shirt and pajama bottoms.
“Where were you?” Micah asked, leaning casually out of
the window of his Mercedes. If Kira changed into a khaki skirt and a polo shirt, they could have served as an advertisement for a resort.
Kira pointed at the mansion behind her. “Inside. The
entire time. Where are we headed?”
“I’d go anywhere and now I get to choose?”
Kira reached for the handle to the front seat when she
saw Eric, her neglected boyfriend through the window. Kira smiled and took the seat behind Micah.
“Take a left,” Kira said as Micah keyed the ignition.
“I thought it didn’t matter,” Micah said.
“Wherever we’re going, a left is most efficient.”
When they heard the bullet shot right, Eric realized
that location, not time was what mattered.
Adam, Clowes, MBA stared at the ceiling when he opened
his eyes. Eric understood. Five years had passed since the bullet. All of their lives had taken a few unexpected turns.
“Where am I?” Mr. Clowes asked once he looked sideways
and realized he wasn’t alone, but with an employee.
“My old bedroom,” Eric replied.
“You lived in Terenax?”
“Yep. Back when I was a foster kid. Years ago.”
“I only discovered this city a few months ago.”
Eric shrugged and decided not to explain. Terenax was
different than the outside world but resembled mainstream society better than the mage districts or the kaien district that embraced egalitarianism but eschewed technology.
“What happened at the bar?” Mr. Clowes asked.
Adam knew that much.
“They wanted to kill us, didn’t they?”
Eric shook his head. “They’re a political group. Every
attack has an objective, but their overall goal is the elimination of currency. No one can understand their strategies. They hurt whoever they say they’re trying to help.”
People who had hurt Eric claiming they wanted to help him
had shaped his life. His father had tried to motivate him and had succeeded to some degree, or so they told Eric when he was awarded a full scholarship to an exclusive prep school, where he was greeted by students who ended up coming after him with a gun. So he retreated to relative safety, where he slept only with the aid of prescription drugs.
Mr. Clowes sat up and examined the bedroom. He was
probably looking for his shoes. Dannah had taken them off and placed them in the hallway as Mr. Clowes slept. Shoes weren’t allowed in bedrooms.
“Is Kyle Ross at all involved in this mess?” Mr. Clowes
asked. He rested his feet, covered in well-crafted socks on Dannah’s abused carpet.
“He was but only slightly. He’s your godson, right?”
“I’m Kira’s godfather, not Kyle’s. Don’t use that verb
tense. Only corpses stay missing this long.”
“He’s still alive. Or at least that’s according to his
kidnappers. They took him to make a point to his father. Under the right circumstances he can go free. The right circumstances might never occur.”
Mr. Clowes coughed. Eric reached for a tissue box until
he realized it was unnecessary.
“I’m fine,” Mr. Clowes said. “What did the group want
“Compassion, I think. Directed towards Kyle and the rest
of the world.”
“There’s a fine line between compassion and abuse with
children. My father crossed it constantly. I waited with Micah.”
“My father got me here.”
There was a pause. Fathers were almost always silent.
Working mothers had taken Eric away from his father and reassigned him, turning his childhood into a tour of service. They told him to cut his losses, to stop searching. They never offered a second father, but other men had intuited his pain in the past, before they left and told him to search elsewhere.
“I knew Micah in prep school,” Eric said. “He had it
“What about Kyle? Did you ever meet him?”
“Kira and Kyle have a biracial half-brother who Kyle only
“It’s not me.”
“Might as well be.”
Biography: Kaye Branch lives in Massachusetts. Her work has been published in Troubadour 21; Children, Churches and Daddies; Fear of Monkey; The Legendary; Danse Macabre; Fear of Monkeys; Della Donna; All Things Girl; The Fringe; Pens on Fire and Conceit.