Friday was release day for a book I wrote called Beacon, book one of the Nation of Five series. The book is about young men and an impossible task they set before themselves. Well, I know a lot about impossible tasks. I’m a DID survivor who suffers from hallucinations. I have bipolar and Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder. Getting through a day where I make dinner, hang out with my kids, be a husband to my wife, and not end the day screaming, is the completion of an impossible task. Well, it may be an impossible task that’s undertaken in the book Beacon, but it’s only even considered because of the friendship between four boys. Four teenage boys attempt this daunting feat. Got me thinking about the boys and men in my life. And so this weekend to celebrate the release of Beacon, I will be dropping upon you chapters from Reality of the Unreal Mind. These chapters are from the unreleased third volume, titled The Keep. I start at 7:30 in the evening on Friday, and will end at 9 at night on Sunday. So follow me now into the story of the men who made me possible.
Sometimes we are the villain in our own story. Sometimes we are the bully. Things happen that we will never forgive ourselves for, and we want to deny they ever happened. We want to try to hide them from the world.
But in order for you to see me, really see me, you have to see what happened with Kickstart. And learn that no matter how much we want to be the good guy, sometimes we just aren’t.
He just kind of appeared. Didn’t remember seeing him in sixth, seventh, or even eighth grade until I was with D. I was playing DnD all the time and had made it my life. Then Kickstart popped up in a pre-algebra class right in the middle of the year. He was not popular. And he had Walleye as his only friend.
One day D and I were walking around pre-algebra before class and we saw a character sheet on Kickstart’s desk. It was supposed to be a character sheet for DnD but at just a glance we knew this was a crapfest. They had never read a book or seen a character sheet. D snatched it off the desk and flipped it over.
“You guys play?” he asked.
This is a cruel question. This right here is cruel. Everyone who was not popular wanted to be in on our games. Everyone who knew about the fact that I had climbed from the pit to the upper echelon knew it was because of DnD. When Kickstart was asked if he played, his heart skipped and he knew this was his in. He knew that by the end of class he would be in the back with us, neck deep in a game.
But never to leave a man behind, he motioned to Walleye. “We play a little.” So much hope existed in that response. I can still hear it in my head. It haunts me.
“Well, let’s look at this.” D flipped the page and stifled a laugh poorly. “This is your magical item list?”
The entire page was filled with two columns of magical weapons. We saw three plus fifty golden swords. We saw at least two plus one hundred diamond axes. This was obviously nothing real. This was a mess, a group of people fighting for a dream that was never going to come true.
“I want to fight him,” D said.
“I’ll run it,” I said.
Kickstart looked at Walleye, then back at us. He was scared. He knew what this really was now. And this is why. He saw it in my eyes.
I was not ready to share. I did not want to watch another rise. I had one friend when I met up with D and he made a life for me, and that was Spider. I was true to him and only him. Walleye had tried a few times to step on me to get to the popular crowd in seventh grade. I had no love in my heart. I had a good thing going and couldn’t chance another unpopular kid ruining it for me.
I ran that fight but made a rule first.
“If D wins, he gets to keep the character,” I said. “And Walleye has to fight D, too. We play for sheets. You guys beat D and you get his character. He wins and we take this thing from you.” I can still hear my voice saying it. I feel dirty telling it.
But Kickstart and Walleye deserve their day. They deserve to see me show this to everyone and admit to it. They deserve my confession so that this series does not look like me just playing my own horn. I was not always a good guy. Hate and desperation would point me at these two kids.
Hate of myself for ever being without D, and desperation to keep them out of our group.
“What weapon are you going to use?” I asked Kickstart.
“I want to use my psychic hammer.”
“What the fuck is a psychic hammer?” D said.
“I control it with my mind. It’s a weapon I made up myself.” He is trying to hold on to anything. If he can show us his ideas are cool, maybe he can pull out of this. But I don’t want another kid with cool ideas around.
I already know how I am going to crush that.
“What are you going to use?” I asked Walleye.
“My plus fifty golden sword,” he said.
“Yeah, good luck with that,” I said. I knew exactly how I was going to break that.
“Let them go first,” D said. “I’ll let them attack me first.”
I looked at them. “Who first, fellas?”
“Me,” Kickstart said.
“Roll to hit,” I said. “You know what, I’m just going to give it to you. You hit him for critical damage. Now, you have a hammer, that is a four-sider. So roll to see if you hit him for one, two, three, or four points of damage. Then we will double that for the critical.”
The hope ran right out of Kickstart. He wanted out, but we were not letting him out today.
I want to say this is Shadow. Let’s blame the asshole with the foul mouth and the stench of gas, but this was not Shadow. This is Artist.
No one wants to believe that. No one wants to think that our beautiful butterfly man with magic on his tongue and a smack of hope to everything he says is the one breaking these kids. But no matter how much I want to tell you that this is Shadow, the pure fact of the matter is, this is Smear Lord of Ire. He has something and he does not want to share.
Well no matter how strong you are, you can’t swing a golden sword for very long. Two rounds and Walleye could not hold up his sword. D moved in with the efficiency he was becoming known for and cut them both down. We took their character sheets and it was over.
The hopes of two boys were stomped out. Smear did not lose his seat. And no one ever tried to get in a game after that. The guns had been fired. No one played in that school without our permission.
Sometimes you’re the villain of your own life.
But never can you admit it in public.
So it’s sophomore year of high school and I have no one to hang out with. I end up sitting in the lobby in a chair and Kickstart is a few seats down.
“Fuck this morning shit!” Shadow says.
“Tell me about it,” Kickstart says.
“I need a car.”
“So you don’t have to ride the bus and you can sleep longer?”
“No,” Shadow says, “So that I have a place to nestle up and get a nap in during third hour.”
That is how it started. Kickstart was a friend. A good friend. Someone I could count on. We ate together. We hung out before school together. We took a few of the same classes. We were in gym together. Back when we were kids, this gym thing was fun, but as our bodies grew and started doing things we weren’t comfortable with, playing sports became less about having a good time and more about survival.
But we both sucked in gym side-by-side.
I remember one time I had missed the bus, but I needed to be at second hour, so I got on my ten speed and rode fast. I put everything I had into that ride and made it through St. Robert all the way to the Waynesville hill before Kickstart’s bus got to his stop. At the top of the hill, he stood with about three other kids when I pulled up. All the way up the approach to the hill, something was wrong. I had a hitch in my pedaling and didn’t know what it was. I stopped at his bus stop to check it out, and my pedal fell off.
It just dropped onto the ground. The threads had been stripped in my aggressive riding and my bike was fucked. I had a half a mile hill straight into town to deal with and an intersection at the bottom. I couldn’t get on the bus at his stop and stash my bike behind a bush because the bus driver would not let me on. It was not my stop. I grabbed the pedal and handed it to Kickstart.
“Find me in school and give that back to me,” Shadow said.
“What are you about to do?” Kickstart said.
“Gotta get to school.” I pushed off and began my descent. I let the gravity take me and I rolled down a deadly hill with one leg held out to the side. I hit at least thirty as I rushed through that intersection without pause or even a glance. I let the momentum carry me through downtown and right across the Roubidoux bridge, the bridge that runs over the river cutting the town in half. I walked my bike to my grandparents, who lived right there, then ran the rest of the way.
Made it before the end of first hour. Kickstart laughed his ass off when he handed me that pedal back.
“Never expected to see you again,” he says.
Shadow grins. “Never even pumped the brakes going through town.”
“Not today,” I say.
Kickstart’s dad made him go into wrestling. Kick was a thin kid and his dad was kind of tough, so he had to join. Kickstart hated every minute of the first year, but by the second year, he was starting to get good. His body was filling out and he was getting a lot of confidence.
I never saw him wrestle. I wish I could have. By his junior year he was really good. But I would fuck him over one more time before I would ever see him in a match.
My senior year, when the yearbooks came in, we all got to go into the lunch room and sign everyone’s yearbook.
I came to him and handed him my book. “Sign this for me, brother,” I said.
“Brother?” he said. “Okay.”
I will try to the best of my ability to try to capture what he wrote. I owe him that much.
Fuck Dracula! After you joined that play I was not good enough for you. You stopped hangin out with me altogether. I was left alone. I had no one. My best friend had left me and I didn’t know why. I tried to think of a reason for almost a year as to why you would just turn your back on me like that and walk away. And what I came up with is you’re a fucking asshole.
Death in the family. No friend to see me through it. First real heartbreak. No friend to see me through it. Almost failed out of school. No friend to pull me back. Nearly suicided. Almost snuffed my ass out and where was my only friend? Chasing some girl name Draconic way too hot for him that he was never going to nail down.
A lot of places to see you but nowhere to find you. So yeah. Fuck Dracula. Fuck Draconic. Fuck all of your friends that were always cooler than me and fuck you, Jesse Teller.
Fuck your past that you always talked about.
Fuck your present that I was never invited into.
And fuck your future. I hope you steam in hell.
Oh and have a good summer.
That was not verbatim. But it was very much that right there.
When I read it from across the room, I just stared at him. He looked at me and smiled. I threw my yearbook away and walked out. I went up out of the lunch room to the lobby to sit on the chairs that the losers sat on in the morning.
They have nowhere else to go.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.