I plan to write a fantasy series and this is the opening chapter of the first book. Any comments or suggestions? I’m a beginner writer, and I hope to get this far one day. I know it has a long way to go.
I’m looking for honest critiques on it and open to any kind, good or bad. Any thoughts, comments, suggestions, etc? Also I’m looking for way to improve the intro or to have a more captivating opening. Another thing, should I keep this as first person or switch it to third person? Thanks for your time.
Chapter One: Questions and Lies
Recently, the false memories were coming back again. I knew they were fake, but even the real ones come and go in random moments that messed with my head in more ways than one. Still, on this particular day, I wish I could choose to forget all my troubles: my childhood, who I was, even… no, especially my so-called puberty, which was just starting to act up.
“Jay, was it?” My elderly neighbor glanced at my school fundraiser sheet I had given him, and looked up at me with his brows knitted.
A drop of sweat trickled down my face and fell down onto the man’s wooden porch floor. I wanted to yell at him and tell him that wasn’t my real name. I wanted to stop all the hiding and tell him — tell everyone — that I wasn’t who they thought I was. But I couldn’t.
“Are you okay, son? You’re shaking.”
“I — I’m fine.” The man peered at me over his glasses. But what could I tell him? The man in black would arrive at my house any moment today, and if I were to express this as the reason for my fears, it would surely raise suspicions.
My breathing began to get heavier. The porch lights right beside us flickered in sync with my shaking hands. It was only a matter of time before I wouldn’t be able to hold in my anxiety, and the lights…
Just puberty. I could almost hear Eritus’ constant reminders echoing inside my head.
“Hmm, I remember back in middle school, fundraising made me a tad bit nervous myself,” the elderly man went on, laughing to himself. “I think, maybe, I have something you could have to help calm—,”
“No!” I said abruptly, and the porch lights flared dangerously. The man frowned at them and shook his head.
“I have got to get them replaced,” he muttered.
“Thanks, for everything, but I’ll just take the sheet and—,”
It was the sight of the black SUV parked at the edge of the street that sent a rush of dread throughout my body, reactivating all my fears and anxiety. In front of it stood the first house on the block, and at the door, waiting for it to open, stood the man in the black suit. I remembered him from the year before, and the year before that one.
Anger and fear stirred inside me, the usual, hateful thoughts popping up in my mind whenever I saw him. That man was the reason why I had to stay in hiding.
Pop! The porch lights finally gave out as the glass shattered to the floor. The man jumped in surprise, his hand clutched to his chest.
“I have to go,” I said quickly. “Sorry about the lights, didn’t meant to scare you.” And leaving the old man surely wondering how it could possibly be my fault the porch lights exploded, I didn’t even stop to receive the fundraiser sheet as I turned and ran, heading straight home.
But the man in the black suit was only a few doors down from my house. So, before he could turn his head towards me, I was forced to quickly dodge behind a tree out of his field of vision; I wasn't going to be in his sight anymore than I had to.
After a few, tense seconds, I glanced around the trunk of the tree and saw the door closing behind the man as he was finally allowed into the first home. My muscles relaxed a bit as I directed my attention over to the door of my house.
It felt a lot further away as I sprinted towards it, but I finally reached it. I barged in and slammed the door behind me, as if some savage dog was right behind me. With my back against the door, I closed my eyes, trying to catch my breath. That’s when I frowned, realizing the door to my house hadn’t been locked when I’d reached it. Was Eritus home already? Still panting, a load of burnt air filled my lungs, making me cough. Yeah, Eritus must have been home, and it looked like he was cooking too, or at least trying to. That was weird. He was never home this early, even on days like today. “Jay?” came the deep, soothing voice of my guardian. “Is that you?” Eritus’s head popped up from behind a wall, and when he saw it was me, his face broke out into a wide smile. Immediately my spirits lifted. Sure, maybe he was a sorry cook and he wasn’t that great with modern technology, but his presence would make most people melt in comfort and forget all their worries.
Eritus had combed, neatly trimmed hair that reached to his shoulders, and a goatee that were both whiter than snow. The deeply etched wrinkles near his eyes were proof he smiled a lot. But his emerald green eyes were the main features of his impressive aura: they opened up a window into the calm, wise soul that reassured me in every possible way, telling me, even now, that everything was going to be okay.
“I wasn’t expecting you to arrive so soon,” he said, coming out from behind the wall. He was wearing a charred apron, and his slightly disarrayed hair might’ve been the messiest I had ever seen it. “Did you run here?” he added, noticing my heavy breathing. I shrugged, trying to act like nothing bad was coming our way. Eritus calmed me. “Grayson,” I said, referring to the neighborhood bully. “Ah, of course.” But he smiled at me, and I couldn’t help but to smile back. It was like it was just the two of us, pretending like the man in black didn’t even exist, and there was nothing that could take away our peace of mind. “So why are you here so early? You couldn’t have known he would come so early, right?” Eritus raised his eyebrows.“Do not tell me the birthday boy himself forgot about his special day. It is, after all, why I decided to give the oven another go.”
Birthday boy?! I was so focused on the man in black that I almost forgot that I would turn thirteen tonight. Or maybe it was another stupid memory loss. Why this day out of all?
“I… forgot,” I said, remembering my dad. Birthdays weren’t the same with out Dad.
The smile on Eritus’s face faded.
“Don’t think you are the only one carrying this burden,” he said. He had read my mind again. “It’s difficult for me as well… I miss both of them.” He added.
I remembered how close he used to be with Dad — and I was told he had been very close with even my mom before she died. I remembered how he would visit us on a weekly basis, and how I used to think he was the awesome grandfather that I never had. Now I knew he had just been good friends with my parents.
“Eritus, when are we going to be able to see him again?” It was almost like a plea, as if all he had to do was say the word so we could pack up and meet him somewhere, without the fear of being traced or risking any lives.
Eritus sighed. He took off his apron and dusted himself off.
“Sooner than you think,” he said. With one arm, he grabbed me around the shoulders and brought me into the living room, where the air was hazy from the burning oven. Somewhere outside, we heard the neighbor right next to us loudly welcome in who must’ve been the man in black. “Ah… I nearly forgot. Help me, would you? Our guest can’t see any of these pictures here. It would be a dead giveaway, don’t you think?”
He pointed at all the frames hanging on our walls. There was one with my parents by themselves, holding each other in their arms. Then, there was another one with my dad and Eritus sitting at a table, frozen in mid-laugh. But my favorite one was the one with all of us together, with Eritus and both my parents, with my mom’s stomach bulging with who I knew was me in her womb. I loved these pictures, not just because they were of all the people I cared about, but because it was living evidence of just how real my memories of them were. None of it was made up in my head.
“I’ll take care of the mess I caused in the kitchen,” Eritus told me. “What could I have possibly done wrong this time?” he asked himself as he disappeared into the thick haze in the kitchen.
With every picture I took off the wall, it pained me. With every frame I added to the box at my feet, my anger grew. This wasn’t right. Kids my age should’ve been going out with their families at this time, enjoying the weekend with each other, not figuring out the best way to keep their identity secret just so that they could live another day.
“All ready?” Eritus asked. He came out of the kitchen, which was still hard to make out in the smoke. I had a feeling he left it like that on purpose, but I couldn’t imagine why, only that it had to do with the man in the black suit.
The pictures were now replaced with frames I had hung up, but instead of family pictures, there were abstract arts and paintings. Closing the box of the family pictures and frames, I gave it to Eritus.
He went off to his room, probably to put the box under his bed, and came out five minutes later dressed very differently than he was before. With the wire-thin glasses, the tam-o-shanter hat, and the flimsy cane, it made Eritus look a decade older than he actually was. It was all for disguise though. I knew he had extremely good vision for his age, and he could bear walks longer than even I could.
Placing my backpack on the floor behind a couch, I looked down at my clothes and realized I didn’t need to change. I looked like a normal, middle school student who had just come home from school.
“Ahem,” Eritus said.
I looked up to see our living room light bulb flickering. Just a few feet behind Eritus, I could hear the t.v. turn on then back off in the movie room. I took a deep breath, trying to calm my nerves.
“You will have to watch out for that when he arrives,” Eritus reminded me. “This man will find anything suspicious, and we wouldn’t want that.”
“But if it's just puberty…?”
“Different people go through different kinds of puberty. Your kind is a giveaway to the kind of people this man seeks, remember?”
I decided to drop the topic that had always confused me. “What would happen —,” I hesitated. “What would happen if he somehow figured out I’m not Jay Anderson? And that you’re not who you say you are?” It was the same question every time, once a year, when the man in black came, but I had to see what the stakes were again, just in case.
“I wonder why you would want to fret over that issue.”
“Okay, fine, but I’m guessing we’d still stay living this life if they don’t find out?”
“I'm afraid so, yes. We will live on like we have been for the last few years, shut out and confined, but otherwise alive, safe and — more importantly — together.”
So there was an unknown consequence for being discovered, but could I really go through another whole year isolated from my dad? What if I could reveal myself and still avoid anything they had in store for me? Or maybe, after all these years, they just wanted to put me in juvenile for a few months. I would gladly go through that if it meant being free again. But I knew that was wishful thinking. It was clear that it wasn’t so simple. Eritus was sacrificing everything for my safety. My dad wouldn’t have let me go if it was something so minor. But I wasn’t so sure… of anything really. And I thought that my ignorance could potentially be a danger that would get the better of my desperate desire to finally see my dad again.
“What’s bothering you?” Eritus said, and I jumped, forgetting he was there. For a moment, I feared he somehow knew what I was thinking.
Plopping down on a couch, I tried to act casual — well, as casual as you could when you knew that unpredictable danger was in the very near future.
“Nothing,” I lied. “Just nervous. Like always.”
Then, I heard footsteps on our front porch, and my heart nearly jumped out of my chest as the doorbell rang.
Five years ago, before Eritus and I had to separate ourselves from my dad and go into hiding, they had told me someone dangerous wanted us all for something we possessed. I didn’t know who, or even the what, but they told me they would sacrifice it all up so that we could live a happy, normal life. Supposedly that was impossible to do though. I remembered that day as clear as if it were yesterday, when we had been attacked by odd, cloaked men and we had no choice but to separate ourselves from that day on…. So, as I sat there with my heart hammering, anger overwhelmed my fear. “Get the door, would you Jay?” Eritus said, sitting down and resting his cane beside him. “I am, after all, a very old man.” He winked at me, and a rush of confidence surged through me.
I walked over to the door, but then froze, my hand lying still on the door knob. What if we pretended we weren’t there? No. It wasn’t that easy. They would just keep on coming, or find some mandatory way to meet up with us. And Eritus had told me they were onto us — ignoring them would only make them suspicious. So, with a deep breath, I swung open the door.
The man stood at the door expressionless. He looked closely at my face and I felt like his black eyes were X-raying me. After an awkward few seconds, I decided to ignore the pounding in my ears and stick to the routine Eritus had always told me to follow.
“Hi, you must be the government guy who’s going to be asking us some questions about some criminals or something?” It was hard keeping my voice from quivering, but I had experience.
He looked me up and down before speaking. “Something like that, yes,” the man said, giving me a sly smile. “Is your legal guardian home?”
“He’s over in the living room,” I said, and against my will, I led the man deeper into the house, where Eritus sat on one of the couches pretending to take a nap.
He took his time as I shook him gently. “Grandpa,” I said. “A man is here to see you.”
Eritus jumped. “Oh, do forgive me, young man,” he said, noticing the man in black patiently waiting behind me. I wondered how much money they were giving him to do this. “Jay, bring a chair for him, would you?”
“Thank you,” the man said as he took the chair I brought him. I sat down next to Eritus, praying my nerves wouldn't give me away. “So,” the agent began. “I was told this is the Anderson’s residence, but you go by Mr. Thompson, is that correct? ” He smiled at us with greedy eyes that almost hoped we would say no. “Yes,” Eritus answered. “You see, I am from the boy’s mother side, so I am not an Anderson. But Jay here is.” The man leaned back, his smile fading, but he was only just getting started. “Please remind me again, what happened to his parents?” he asked. It was the same question every year, but a year was plenty of time, and he was only hoping we might slip up. He was constantly glancing down at a clipboard in his hands as if making sure all our lies were constant. Eritus dipped his head down. “My daughter and her husband died a few years ago in an accident… We don’t like speaking of it. Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to go on to the purpose of your coming here.” “Yes, of course,” the man said slowly. “So… I believe you know I am an agent in the Department of Justice. Here is my badge. See? I have come to your neighborhood to ask the local residents a few questions regarding specific criminals that have been on the run for years. We have received annual reports from these areas on at least one of these criminals, and based on the fact that there is no evidence that suggests they have left the area of Houston, we find it necessary to question every resident in these areas to help narrow down our search. These people are a serious threat.” This guy wasn’t lying about being in the Department of Justice. That was made clear to me years ago by Eritus. But that didn’t change the fact that it was all a cover-up for finding the people he called ‘criminals’ — which happened to include my dad, Eritus… and me. “I see,” Eritus said, starting to nod off. The agent waited before Eritus seemingly woke with a start. “Forgive me… Anyways, I don’t believe I have seen or heard of any of these so called criminals. Have you, Jay?” I gulped as the agent shifted his gaze to me. “No,” I said, pretending to take out some homework from my backpack beside me. “I don’t think I have.” “Regardless of whether you haven’t or have,” the man in black continued, “I must continue to ask more questions. First of all, when did you two move here? It would be easier to know if you moved here before or after the filed reports started coming in.” “Five years ago,” Eritus responded, this time truthfully. “And do you leave the city or state often?” “I’m afraid I don’t have much money to do that.” “What about the boy’s health and physical condition,” the man pestered. “Is he healthy? Is he top in his class athletic wise? Any health concerns or… abnormalities?” The agent struggled to find the right word, as if he didn’t know what to call the specific thing he had in mind; it was almost like he somehow knew about all the weird things about me. The man was starting to shift off topic now, away from the reason he claimed he had came in the first place. I was going to leave this section of the interview for Eritus to finesse like always. “Oh, I would say he is very healthy, yes,” Eritus stated. “And he is more or less top in his class physically. But I fail to see how this is relevant to the criminals you spoke of.” The agent cleared his throat, almost like he had found dirt on us. “It says here you once told me he had a leg disorder that disabled him from any kind of exercise. When it comes to crime, a lie is taken very seriously. It can mean deliberately hiding evidence of such crimes, and that is against the law. So I ask you, Mr. Thompson, are you hiding something?” My heart dropped like a stone. I should’ve known it was too many lies to keep up with; the man had us entangled in our own web of lies. After so many years, we’d been found, and suddenly I questioned why I ever considered telling the agent I was lying for five years about my identity. But, of course, Eritus was calm. “Hand me that suitcase, please,” Eritus told me. He pointed to a small file suitcase that was leaning against a couch behind the grinning agent, and I got up to give it to Eritus. He searched through it slowly, making sure to stay in character. “It really was unfortunate,” Eritus explained as he searched. “During the accident, Jay was lucky to survive, but he damaged his right leg severely.” Finally, he took out a sheet of paper and handed it to the agent, whose smile melted off his face. “But Jay was blessed with great doctors and surgeons who were able to help him regain his pre-accident health.” The man stared at the sheet of paper and fixed his tie. I was just as confused as he was. There was a sudden flashback in my mind that momentarily seemed to convince my entire body that I had once been injured to the point of needing surgery. But I knew it was another false alarm; I had never had surgery in my life.
“Very sorry. We really do need to make sure though,” the man said.
“Completely understandable,” Eritus said, receiving the paper from the agent and passing it to me. I don’t know how, but Eritus was not only able to recover from the lie, he was able to make some false proof that I had surgery on my right leg. I gaped at the official looking paper, awed at Eritus’ trick. Just then, the oven started beeping. “That must be the muffins,” Eritus said casually. He slowly got to his feet with the help of his cane. “Put that inside the suitcase for me, Jay. We might need that for next year.” He smiled at the agent before heading off to the kitchen. Of course, the agent turned to me. Without Eritus’s cunningness and guidance, I might as well have told the man the truth. But I wasn’t going to decide on that so quickly. “What was your name again?” he asked me. “Jay Anderson.” “Yes,” he said, disappointed. “Yes. Well, maybe if you could tell me if you have seen these names before? Even kids can contain a trace of a clue without them even realizing it.” He passed me a sheet of paper with a long list of names. I had never heard even the likes of them. There were names like Lempros and Moldrin, names I had never even knew existed. Then, as I skimmed down the list of strange names, my eyes stopped as they saw my parents’ names: Damon and Julia Cross. The sight of the thick, red ‘X’ over my mother’s name nearly made my eyes water. I quickly looked over it though, noticing the agent was studying my reactions. How could I have been so stupid? That was obviously a trick. My heart started thumping wildly as I worried I might have given myself away. And just by a simple look over a list of names containing the exact people the man was looking for. The light behind the agent flickered before exploding, but then, practically simultaneously, a crash came from the kitchen that stopped the man from turning around. “Clumsy me,” Eritus laughed. I turned to see glass everywhere on the ground, clearly from a plate that he must’ve dropped. “This would be the second time this happens today.” The agent tore the sheet of paper from my hands before getting up. “You’re not leaving are you?” Eritus asked. He limped over with his cane, a container holding four muffins in his other hand. “You haven’t tried my homemade muffins yet.” “Thank you,” the agent said slyly, “but I really must be off. There is… absolutely nothing here regarding any of the criminals I spoke of.” “Well, allow me to escort you to the door.” And as Eritus set aside the muffins and limped over to the door with the agent behind him, I sat there with a near heart attack. Had I messed up everything? I looked at Eritus for any hope that things were going just as planned. But when I looked at him, I couldn’t help but think I had seen a hint of concern pass over his expression.