Chapter One

This Can’t Be Good!

Sean Mason sat at the breakfast table, facing cold and mushy cereal. Again as always! He watched the soft particles gasp their last breaths as they gave up the fight and sank into a quicksand of milk. Eaten alive. Dissolved into oblivion. His mouth twitched in a sarcastic smirk. This is my life, he thought. I’m sixteen years old, and I have no future. It’s hopeless—a relentless walk toward a sea of quicksand.


“Sean! Please!” His mother’s voice carried her usual tone of tension and anger. She was always hurried, frustrated, and stressed, but usually more intensely in the mornings. Her boss was an angry and unforgiving man, and she was continually afraid of being late. Angela Mason was thin and drawn, her graying hair carelessly pulled back in a ponytail.

She was throwing her lunch together in a paper bag and searching for her purse at the same time. “We have to leave in five minutes, and you’re not anywhere near ready. If I don’t drive you to school, you’ll be late again!” She was building up steam. Sean knew that very soon there would be a full-fledged war between them, yet he purposely ignored her as the knot in his stomach began to wrestle and grow, twist and turn.

“Sean, now!” she yelled. “I’ve had it with you! And I’m sick of this game of yours. At least look at me when I’m talking to you.”


That did it! Sean looked at his mother, and the black fury that was churning in his gut erupted. “You’re sick of me? I’m sick of you! Sick of you and this whole freakin’ world.”


Sean’s mom recoiled from the rage in his eyes. “Fine!” Her words were clipped as she marched toward the door—a quick exit to escape his anger. “Sean Mason, you are walking to school. I’m late for work!” The door slammed, and she was gone.


Sean and his mom lived in the small town of Riverside, which was nestled deep in the Rocky Mountains. His house was dilapidated, with a ramshackle porch, shutters that hung from the windows like lopsided smiles, and a sidewalk leading to the house that was fraught with weeds protruding through its many cracks. His house was on the east side of town, which was the wrong side of town. He had lived on the west side, the right side of town, with his parents in a brand- new house. His dad had been a lawyer and the coach of his hockey team, and his mother had smiled a lot. They had gone to Hawaii on holidays. He had had a life then.


But that was before his dad disappeared. Now Sean was living in pain and confusion, for it was two years and ten months to this very day that his father had vanished and their life had fallen off a cliff, crashing to pieces on the rocks below. His father had disappeared, and the police had come. There were questions, searches, empty promises. He’ll show up. He couldn’t have just disappeared.


Friends of his father’s were the next to come to help, other lawyers he had gone to law school with. More questions, more searches, more empty promises. He’ll be back, they said. People don’t just disappear. Sean knew then that they would be no help. He knew that people do just disappear, because that was exactly what his father had done!

Sean also knew that his mother, just like their house, was on the brink of falling apart. She was holding down a job, something she had never been able to do well. She had always depended on Sean’s dad for the practicalities of their lives. Her role had been book club, volunteering, and gossip. Her hair, nails, and wardrobe had always been immaculate, and she prided herself on being the wife of the only lawyer in town. Sean remembered how she had cared for him then, making his lunch, going to his hockey games, asking him how his day had been.


He remembered the day his mom discovered that all their money was tied up in bonds and investments that she couldn’t touch. Nothing was in her name. She had no choice but to become their sole breadwinner. Her job? A waitress. The mortgage went unpaid. Sean felt the insecurity of those days as if they had been yesterday. He would come home from school to find notes stuck in the door, threatening to shut off their gas or electricity if the bills weren’t paid. The scariest one had been the foreclosure notice on their house. They had two months to come up with the past due mortgage payments or they would lose their house. And he remembered the day she had told him they had to move. The bank had foreclosed, and they had lost their house.


And so, two years and ten months later, his mother felt as absent to him as his dad as she struggled to handle her job, their lack of money, Sean’s fury, and the absence of his father. Her graying hair was not stylish anymore, her nails were no longer manicured, there were no new clothes in her closet, and her pride in their standing in the community had turned into shame and humiliation.


Sean was tall and athletic, with black hair that often concealed his eyes, which were a stunning, riveting blue. He knew he made people uncomfortable if he looked directly at them, but it probably wasn’t just his eyes. His height and his strength were intimidating, but he was sure it was his intensity that put them off. He was intense and very angry, and he didn’t care what people thought of him. He followed his own truth and refused to compromise.


As he sat alone at the breakfast table, the echo of the slamming door reminded him of his mother’s solution to everything: just walk away and pretend it wasn’t happening. The stillness and silence of the empty house was almost deafening. Staring out the dirty and smudged kitchen window above a cracked sink, he let himself sink into that familiar feeling of despair. Mocking thoughts rose up, taunting him in the emptiness. Alone. You’re all alone. Your dad is gone, and your mom is useless. No one can help you, and there is no hope.


No help. No hope. The words echoed, circling in his thoughts. His mind began to feel hazy and unclear. Then his eyesight seemed to cloud over. Instead of looking at his bleak and dismal kitchen, he was staring into a foggy, empty, formless space. He blinked several times and shook his head, trying to clear his vision, but the cloudlike world wouldn’t disappear. Suddenly, his heart sped up and panic set in. He knew what was coming. Oh God, no. Not again! Please, not again!


He tried to move, but his body was riveted in place. The air seemed to thicken around him, clogging his throat and making it hard to breathe. He was powerless as the fog deepened, gathering strength. Gathering strength? How could fog gather strength? Before Sean could even consider the possible implications, the fog erupted into a massive explosion that echoed, reverberated, and rocked his body and the whole room around him.


And then he could see again, but he wished that he couldn’t, because he was no longer in his kitchen. He was outside in a shocking and foreign world. The sky was a deep, crimson red with streaks of black shooting across like lightning. More explosions raged,

lacerating the sky, deafening him, and tearing the crimson clouds into black, gaping wounds.


Drenching rain followed, oozing from the cavernous sky-wounds, but it didn’t feel like rain as it enveloped Sean. It was thick and red, sticky, hot, and oppressive. He tried to force himself to breathe, to move, but the air and the rain were thick and suffocating. He couldn’t run, couldn’t escape, couldn’t break free.


Just when he thought this whole experience couldn’t get any worse, a figure in a dark cloak appeared on the red, drenched earth directly in front of him. Instinctively, he knew it was death. It was a hideous, long, and unspeakable death. The specter beckoned to him with a bony finger extending from the sleeve of its cloak. “You can’t escape us,” it called out to him in a chilled and mocking voice. “You belong to us. You are defenseless in our presence. Give up. Give up now.”


In a split second, Sean regained his normal perception back in his kitchen. With a wild scream, he jumped up from the table and paced the room, adrenaline rushing. This was the second time this had happened to him. The second time! Last month the same thing, the same vicious vision. “What the hell?” he shouted out to the emptiness around him. “What do you want? Leave me alone!” The very fact that he was alone, yelling at a vision, scared him even more. He started to sob, his voice cracking as he pounded his fist against the wall. “What do you want?”


Reeling from the whole experience, he fell back into his chair, unaware of the fact that he was rocking. Rocking back and forth in his chair. Thoughts of the world he was living in raced through his mind. Pollution, global warming, terrorists, war, nuclear weapons, freak storms, people losing their jobs and their homes. It felt like the human race was going out of its way to make sure there was no safety to be found, maybe not even a world for his generation in the future. It felt inevitable, this destruction, and somewhere in a secret place deep inside, he knew there was some kind of truth behind this horrific vision. It was just a matter of time before it materialized in some form in his life. In everyone’s lives. So he would wait. It could be tomorrow or it could be a year from now.


He couldn’t tell anyone about his fears, his visions, or his thoughts about the world. No one would understand. He knew that. He was alone in this.


He stood up from the kitchen table, wiped the sweat from his face with his T-shirt, threw on a hoodie, and sprinted out the door. Even school was better than this nightmare he was living in. The kitchen door slammed a second time that morning, rattling the windows of the ramshackle house on the wrong side of town.

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