SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
“And why am I supposed to care?” Ethan asked, glaring indignantly at the man standing in the doorway, posing as his father. “This has nothing to do with me,” he turned his attention to the glowing blue ring on the man’s right hand.
“That’s where you’re wrong, son. It has everything to do with you,” Thaddeus crossed the room to sit on the bed next to the angry thirteen-year-old.
Thaddeus O’Brien could see so much of himself in this kid. Tall for his age and muscular, with thick, wavy, black hair he wore almost down to his shoulders. His piercing sapphire-blue eyes were framed by long lashes that any woman would envy. He was self-confident and defiant, with no respect for authority. Amazing that the boy wasn’t his biological child. Because Ethan seemed, in so many ways, like a chip off the old block.
And that was part of what worried him.
Thaddeus knew what a handful he, himself, had been as a teenager, and he didn’t have the powers and abilities that Ethan had.
It was into this scene that Arthur materialized, invisible to Ethan and Thaddeus. He stood, quietly observing the two, from his position in the far corner of the room.
“I don’t give a rat’s tail about some stupid cult who wants to use my abilities to their advantage,” Ethan picked up a cell phone from the nightstand and began swiping his finger across the screen.
“You should give a rat’s tail,” countered Thaddeus. “These people have immense power and influence in the world. They can get you things. Things that most regular people don’t even dream of.”
Thaddeus watched the boy pause over his phone. They both knew that Ethan’s abilities would not be easily bought, and though Ethan would not name a price, curiosity is what led him to glance up.
“What kind of things?” Ethan asked, his voice deceptively light.
Thaddeus smiled. “Anything you can imagine, really. Cars, clothes, houses, boats, jewels, which means girls. Whatever you want.” Thaddeus tried to keep from sounding like he was bribing the kid.
“Yeah, ok, that sounds all nice and good. But,” He looked up again, suspiciously squinting his eyes in the older man’s direction, “what do they want from me in return? What do I have to do for them?”
Thaddeus paused, licking his lips, allowing his gaze to wander across the bedspread.
“Not that much, really…” He finally said —it was a white lie. “They want to consult with you from time to time. Have you peek into a few specific individuals’ thoughts and provide certain insights. That’s pretty much it.” With each word spoken, he watched Ethan’s face to see how he would respond.
Hard, cold, unfeeling. That’s how he responded.
Ethan sat there, his piercing gaze looking right through Thaddeus for at least a full minute before speaking.
“So, let’s say I was interested…I need more details before I’d be willing to sell my soul to the devil, you know. How does this work?” Ethan stood and walked to the window, overlooking a large, well-manicured lawn.
“I will make contact and let them know you want to learn more,” Thaddeus spoke to Ethan’s back. “They will then schedule a visit, and you, your mother, and I would make the trip to Sweden. They will wine you and dine you and show you the kind of lifestyle they can provide. By the time a week or so goes by, you will be free to decide for yourself whether you want to participate or not.”
There was a moment of silence before Ethan responded.
“That guy down there wants to punch his best friend in the face. He found out he’s been secretly dating his girlfriend,” Ethan said almost absent-mindedly, then turned around to face his uncle once again. “Sometimes, I really hate that I can read people’s thoughts. So, what if I decide I don’t want to participate—what then? Are you trying to tell me these freaks with all this power won’t mind if I don’t go along with their plans? Doesn’t seem bloody likely to me.”
The boy was no idiot; that was a given, considering his powers. And as he stood, daring Thaddeus—as he often did—to counter his suspicions, the older man stared back, silent, thinking. Thaddeus knew he would have to make the proposition sound enticing enough to draw him in. A taste of the lifestyle The Dark Cabal could offer was usually all it took for someone to devote their life to the cause.
“Let’s just say it would be in your best interest to go along with their program, as outlined.” He glanced briefly at Ethan, then looked away and continued, “But keep in mind that these people view you as a kind of ‘rock star,’ if you will. A superhero of sorts. So, not only will you be treated very well, but you will also gain access to people, places, and experiences that are beyond measure. You’d have to be a fool to reject their offer.”
Ethan pursed his lips thoughtfully, considering his response.
“What’s the timeline on this gig? Are we talking short-term? Long term? Do they just need me for a couple of things, and then I’m on my own, or what? I need security, you know. What about college and a job? Are you saying this could be a career move for me?”
He wandered over to his dresser, coming too close for comfort to where Arthur was standing, invisible and motionless, before picking up a small, framed photo, then returning to his bed. Arthur almost let out an audible sigh of relief but restrained himself. He continued to observe the young man and the older gentleman from his position in the far corner of the room, as he had been since materializing only minutes earlier—a fly on the wall and nothing more.
Seated again next to his uncle, Ethan looked down at the picture. Thaddeus glanced over, noticing last season’s youth football team; players all lined up in their uniforms following the victory game. In the front row center was Ethan, taking a knee and holding a brown and orange helmet in his left hand.
“Life is about choices and compromises, Ethan,” Thaddeus stated flatly. “And power. The accumulation of personal power. There is no reason you have to give up your schooling, sports, and social activities if you don’t want to. But you will need to be trained to control your abilities and to use them judiciously. That is another thing The Cabal will offer you.”
He stood and looked down at the boy whose eyes remained plastered to the photo on his lap.
“I can help with that, too,” Thaddeus added as an afterthought. “There are things you don’t know about me, Ethan. Things I’ve wanted to share with you. Now that you have become familiar with the magical energy you possess, we will be an unstoppable force together—you and I.”
Thaddeus walked to the door, turning to face his nephew with his hand on the brass door handle. “I need your decision soon. Take tonight to think it over, but these are people of action with a mission to fulfill. They have made it clear that they are anxious to move forward aggressively. Let me know by tomorrow what you’d like to do.”
With the click of the latch, Ethan sat the photo on the nightstand and resumed scrolling through his phone.
“You can come out now. I know you’re there,” Ethan stated matter-of-factly, glancing up to where Arthur stood, cloaked in the corner.
Arthur froze, completely taken off guard. He knew the boy had certain magical powers, though he hadn’t expected Ethan would be able to sense his presence in the room so easily. He contemplated remaining where he was, hidden and silent, allowing the boy to convince himself he was mistaken. But of course, all Ethan would have to do to confirm his suspicion would be to walk over, reach out, and touch him. There was no getting around it.
Slowly he reached up and removed the hat from his head, revealing himself to the lad before him. Ethan’s eyebrows raised, though more as an indication of disdain than shock. His eyes flicked down to the brown cap that Arthur now held in his hand.
“Who are you?” Ethan asked. “One of those freaks my dad was talking about, I’m guessing?”
“Well, no, actually. Not one of those freaks,” Arthur responded, and he chuckled involuntarily. However, when he saw no sign of amusement on the boy’s face, he quickly cleared his throat and continued.
“I do understand why you would think that, Master Ethan. since I’ve been standing here, hidden from view. But I can easily calm your mind on the issue.” He reached down and unpinned the photo from inside the hat; then, he held it out in front of Ethan. “Here, I have this for you.”
“What’s that?” The boy asked indignantly. “And why do you talk so funny?”
Ethan glanced at the photo but made no motion to reach for the offering.
“It’s your family. You, with your family. Your mum and dad. Your mother and father, with your little brother and sister. It was taken not long before your parents were killed.”
Something flashed behind Ethan’s expression, prompting Arthur to add:
“Your father used to carry the original of this photo inside his military hat.”
Ethan still showed no indication that he intended to remove the photo from Arthur’s hand, but he did, at this news, look down and briefly study the image with some interest. Then just as quickly, he visibly recoiled.
“Why should I believe you? You still haven’t even told me who you are and what you’re doing here, hiding in my bedroom, eavesdropping on my private conversations!”
Ethan shot up off his bed, skirted wide around Arthur, and made a move for the door.
“What are you doing?” Arthur asked in an urgent but hushed tone.
“I’m getting my dad. What do you think I’m doing? You’re some kind of nut job!”
“Please don’t! I’m here to help you. Your grandfather sent me!” Arthur blurted out.
That stopped Ethan cold in his tracks, his fingers leaving the door handle as he slowly turned, his expression of anger replaced with one of intense, burning confusion.
“My grandfather? What do you mean?”
“Your grandfather, Sir Edward. He has been waiting for your magical powers to awaken so that we could locate you,” Arthur was talking rapidly now, trying to convey as much information as he could in as short a time as possible. “Your aunt and uncle, along with that group of so-called ‘freaks’ you referred to, have been keeping you hidden from him ever since your parents’ death.”
Ethan inhaled deeply, then, puffing his chest out, he stood tall and erect. A sardonic smirk turned his mouth up at the corners, and his brilliant blue eyes squinted with new insight.
“I can read your mind, you know. You do know that, don’t you?” Ethan’s tone was harsh, cynical, and he spoke the words under his breath threateningly.
“You want to kidnap me, to take me away from my home and parents. And just like those other freaks, you need me!
Ethan was getting louder, and Arthur’s eyes flicked to the door, then to the window.
“Please be quiet, Master Ethan!” he begged. “You are in grave danger from these people. You don’t understand, Sir Edward, and I want to protect you.”
Ethan scoffed. “Protect me? You’re the person I need protection from! Dad! Dad!” He opened his bedroom door and began shouting into the hallway.
Arthur had no other choice. With one last look at Ethan, he quickly put his hat back on his head, pressed the small button on the underside of the brim, and vanished.