Authors: Tom Twitchel
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Coming of Age, #Magical Realism, #Paranormal & Urban, #Teen & Young Adult
‘KNACK’ Benjamin Brown Book 1
from KIRKUS REVIEWS
“…a hard luck tale that would make YA scribe Jerry Spinelli swoon.”
“Twitchel writes believably likeable (and loathsome) characters…”
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All names places and events are fictional, or used fictitiously and are products of the author’s imagination.
For Ryan Thomas, Ryan Henry, Sean, Lauren & Zac
HAVE YOU EVER stood before a door and been faced with the proverbial “lady or the tiger” moment? There are rare occasions when it might actually be both. I’d just visited my apartment to grab a change of clothes and suddenly that’s what I was trying to figure out. I pressed my hand against the door to the hallway, like you would to see if it was hot during a fire, except that it wasn’t a fire on the other side of the door that I was worried about. It was the person standing in front of my apartment door that was weirding me out. She was someone familiar, but currently less so, which was scary as hell.
Events over the past several weeks had caused my life to tilt sideways. Not that my typical week or month was normal. Having recently saved most of the student population in my high school from a slaughter you’d think that I would be a celebrated hero and that my biggest challenge would be fending off all of the people lining up to thank me.
No, and no, and definitely not today, and really not now.
Because of the way I lived, I needed privacy. So, no hero parades for me, thank you. My best friend in the world had moved away two weeks ago, and my mentor, the closest thing that I have to family in Seattle, had been taken away from me too. A good friend that I had trusted with some of my most precious secrets had turned into a psychopath, or had always been one and I’d been too stupid to notice. Oh, and that former friend? He had promised to hurt people close to me if I ratted him out for the role he had played in the aforementioned attempted mass murder. Add to all of that, a man I hadn’t known a month ago, and now knowing him I wished I still didn’t, currently had tremendous influence over my life, and directed virtually all of my activity during my waking hours unless I avoided him.
So, now this.
“Benny, I know you’re in there. Open the door,” the familiar voice whispered again.
When I’d come back to my apartment to grab some clothes I hadn’t been prepared for the wave of emotion that had washed over me. Memories had rushed in unbidden and I’d immediately regretted coming back. I had also been totally unprepared for the visitor calling to me from the hallway. I let my forehead rest against the door and closed my eyes tightly, hoping that she would just go away. She’d been missing for almost a month and we had all resigned ourselves to the fact that she probably wasn’t ever going to be found. But there she was, standing at my door asking to be let in, and I couldn’t do it.
Why was I reluctant to open the door? I mean, I’d kissed this girl twice, taken her to a dance, had lunch with her dozens of times and had started to think, feel, that maybe our casual flirting and on-again-off-again friendship was something more, a lot more. Then why hadn’t I flung the door open and thrown my arms around her? Because the girl standing in the hallway that I could see through the peephole didn’t look like the friend I thought I had lost. She looked
. And she’d shown up unannounced, unexpected and...what? Unwanted? I couldn’t get a handle on my feelings. All I knew for sure was that her showing up out of the blue was creeping me out and the way she looked wasn’t helping to calm my nerves.
Justine Winters had been an academic All-American. The prototypical sweet-girl-next-door. She had worn her dark blond hair long, usually with a simple ribbon holding it back from her face. She had favored long, modest dresses or jeans, little makeup and a shy smile that had flickered around her lips and eyes. I mean seriously, she had been like right out of a Disney movie.
The young woman I could see through the fisheye lens was obviously Justine, but not the way she had always looked as long as I had known her. This version didn’t have the pink-cheeked healthy glow I remembered. This version looked pale and edgy. Her hair had been cut so short that if her features hadn’t been familiar it would have been possible at first glance to mistake her for a boy, and it wasn’t blond anymore. It was white. Her clothes were tight-fitting and revealing in a way that shouted ‘look at me’. Hip hugger jeans that looked like they had been spray painted on and a low cut dark shirt that revealed a lot of skin, and a lot of curves. Something the old Justine would have never considered wearing.
The left side of her face was oddly shiny. The skin stretched tight and devoid of any blemishes or wrinkles, like it had been scrubbed with a stiff brush to the point of removing a layer of skin. The other side of her face was covered in makeup and blush. As I watched her, she raised a hand to her lips and brushed the tips of her fingers across them. Her nails were lacquered with a dark red polish that matched the lipstick she wore. Both stood out in harsh contrast to her chalky skin.
But the most disturbing thing about her appearance was her eyes. They had always been a golden brown. Unremarkable, but soft and wide and happy. The pair of eyes trying to peer through the lens were wary, hooded and a startling shade of purple. They seemed to glow in the dimly lit hallway. And that, more than anything else, is why I didn’t want to open the door. Those eyes and their lavender color were too similar to a pair owned by someone who had tried to kill me.
More than once.
“I heard about Munger and Witkowski trying to blow up the gym, and that you’re a hero. Pretty scary. Don’t you want to talk about it?”
She paused, waiting for an answer I wasn’t going to give her.
“I can wait out here all day. I’ve gotten real good at waiting. I thought you might be happy to see me, but maybe I was wrong,” she said.
I held my breath.
“You can’t avoid me forever, Benny. I’ll catch up to you eventually.” She paused, looked down and then her head snapped up, her eyes slit so that the purple color was hard to see. “We have things to talk about.”
She moved away from the viewable range of the peephole so quickly that it was as though she’d disappeared. Pressing my ear to the door I strained to hear her footsteps on the stairs. The only sound I could pick up was the quiet ticking of my refrigerator in the kitchen behind me.
Turning, with my back to the door, I leaned against it and slowly slid down to a sitting position. Resting my head on my knees I let out a long shuddering breath. In the back of my mind I heard a whisper from the past...
‘People change Benny, not always in the way we would hope’
How long I sat like that I’m not sure. Minutes? An hour? When I stood up my back and legs ached so it must have been for a good long while.
I looked through the peephole and saw only empty hallway. Opening the door slowly (why do we do that? Like an evil thing on the other side won’t crash through just because we open it slow?), I leaned out and looked toward the stairwell. No one. If I really worked at it I might be able to convince myself that none of it had happened. That it had all been a vivid daydream.
Justine had been missing for weeks and there had been no word about her being found and I hadn’t seen anything on social media either. Why would she show up at my apartment first? Or had she? Maybe she’d gone home and her parents had kept it quiet, but that didn’t seem likely. Her dad was a blowhard and her mom...her mom was a drama queen and a control freak who could give lessons to other control freaks. She’d have been on TV the minute Justine came home to trash on the police, or thank whoever had found her. But there hadn’t been anything.
So why me first?
A few weeks ago I would have run over to my surrogate grandfather, Mr. Goodturn, and asked for some insight. I could still run over to his pawnshop but I’d have to ask Kenwoode and not Mr. Goodturn. Not nearly as tempting, seeing as how Kenwoode probably couldn’t even spell compassion, much less show it.
Stepping out into the hall I closed the door behind me with my telekinetic knack and locked it the same way. It was one of a handful of supernatural gifts that had started showing up when I was thirteen. I descended the stairs slowly, half expecting to see Justine waiting on a landing below, but I got to the lobby and walked out onto the street without seeing her.
Gray overcast skies pressed down from overhead, threatening rain. Seattle, big surprise. Cold December air nipped at my face and hands. But no rain. That qualifies as a good weather day in the Emerald City.
I felt shaky, probably an aftereffect of the adrenaline surge that had spiked when I’d seen Justine lurking outside my door.
When I got to Goodturn’s pawn shop I hesitated. I was reluctant to go in because I’d had my fill of Kenwoode. His stern and commanding way of talking to me was seriously irritating. The fact that he was living in Mr. Goodturn’s home, and was so different from Mr. Goodturn, it was...well...he seemed like he didn’t belong.
Squaring my shoulders I opened the door and walked into the shop that had been my second home since moving to Seattle. The shop had always had a strong allure for me. Old gizmos, antiques, musical instruments and anything else people were willing to pawn for money. No weapons though. Mr. G hadn’t wanted to attract the wrong crowd.
Lot of good that had done him.
In the back were two areas of special interest to me: old books and older vinyl records. There was something about the musty smell of old books and cardboard record jackets that made me happy.
Weird, I know.
The books were my vice or passion depending on how you chose to look at it. The records had been Maddy’s favorite. Maddy, my best friend, was now living with her parents in Los Angeles. Maddy had been unquestionably the best thing that had happened to me during my time in Seattle. In addition to being my best friend she had also been, still was, my secret crush. My damaged leg and limp, and my insecurity about it, had prevented me from ever letting her in on that little nugget.
Shaking off the distracting thoughts of Maddy I looked around. Kenwoode was nowhere to be seen so I scooted over to the small office behind the long glass counter and peeked in. Empty.
I felt my cheeks flush. Kenwoode was constantly leaving the shop unattended, and while I understood that it wasn’t his ‘
cup of tea’
his frequent absence left Mr. Goodturn’s business exposed to thieves or vandals. Plus it seemed so disrespectful, to just leave the door unlocked and the business unsupervised. And stupid. I was getting my mad on and feeling righteously indignant when a voice called from the delivery hallway at the back of the shop.
“Come upstairs straight away. There’s a new development,” came Kenwoode’s cultured and mellifluous voice.
In spite of my growing anger I felt a thrill of anticipation. His news could only be in reference to the one thing that he and I both cared about. I knacked the lock on the front door and turned off the neon “Open” sign, and ran to the back hall and caught up with him at the service elevator.
“What?” I asked, gasping for breath. “What is it?”
Barely turning his head in my direction he frowned and said, “Best to show you.” We stepped into the elevator and the door rumbled shut. There was the familiar lurch and metallic rattle as the old elevator car started the short trip up to Mr. Goodturn’s living quarters.
We traveled in silence. I didn’t dislike Kenwoode, but I wasn’t a fan either. His presence was a painful reminder that Mr. Goodturn wasn’t around anymore.
He tilted his chin up and focused on the ceiling of the tiny elevator car. He was somewhere north of forty years old, but it was hard to judge how far north. He was tall as in six foot two or three, thick iron gray hair that was parted on the side with not one hair out of place. Square-jawed, slender but not thin he possessed one feature that I thought almost made him cool: a goatee and moustache. Almost, because the rest of his physical persona was stiff, as though he’d been seriously injured at some point in his past and he was forced to walk carefully. Unlike Mr. Goodturn, who typically wore white t-shirts and suspenders, Kenwoode always wore a suit, light grey or tan, with a vest and a tie. He didn’t wear glasses and his eyes were wide and an icy blue. When he spoke it was rarely conversational. It seemed that the more efficient his speech the happier he was. In the weeks since we had become acquainted I had never seen him smile. We were not quite the same height (I’d enjoyed a healthy growth spurt over the last several months but wasn’t six foot, yet) but he always made me feel small.
When the elevator clunked to a stop Kenwoode stepped into the hall as soon as the door opened without looking in my direction. I followed him the short distance to the entrance to Mr. G’s apartment. Apartment didn’t accurately describe Mr. Goodturn’s home. His living quarters took up the entire top floor of the building and included a lush rooftop garden and patio. As we entered the large entry area I touched Kenwoode’s elbow.
“Mr. Kenwoode, please what’s going on?” I asked.
Giving no indication that he had heard me he walked unhurriedly toward a long hallway to the left of the entry area that had several doors set at regular intervals. This part of Mr. G’s home was where I’d been sleeping ever since all hell broke loose at school. We passed the door to my room and proceeded to the room at the end of the hall.
As he turned the knob and pushed the door open, he turned to me.
“His eyes opened today.” He said with no emotion.