Dungeons and Dragons.
Part One: The Return.
The alarm rang with all the urgency of a fire drill, needing to capture the attention of the sixteen year old still snoring away under the blue covers of his double bed. The figure stirred, every last inch of him hidden by the midnight blue, and the alarm clock continued its shrill cry.
Finally unable to ignore the noise, a heavy cumbersome hand appeared and landed upon the instrument that had woken him from his peaceful slumber, knocking it from its sitting place, to land with a clatter on the floor. The moving, groaning figure started to emerge from his cocoon and stretched, working out all the knots in his young slender body.
The eyes of his friends were, as usual the first to greet him from the place on the wall were he had mounted the picture. It had been taken just last month at the fair, they had all posed and had all each gotten a copy of the print.
Apart from this one picture, his bedroom walls were bare, unlike that of his friends, who all had their idols almost covering every part of every wall. His parents saw that kind of behaviour unsuitable for a young man, yet they failed to see just how normal it was. Just like they failed to see much of any thing past their own careers and social lives...
Kicking his blanket to the floor, the teen got out of bed, leaving the bed for the maid to rearrange back into its usual order. Like the rest of the house, his bedroom was always tidy and in order, that was another thing his parents approved of. As he left the confines of his room, the maid as usual, hurried in to complete her daily tasks offering a good morning greeting.
"Good day Master Eric." She said in her usual cheerful tone, but Eric was far from cheerful on this particular morning and simply looked at the slightly rounded figure of the hired help.
He walked down the spiral stairs, rubbing the remnants of sleep from his eyes, spotting his father about to leave the house, the coffee cup in his hand while he sorted through what ever he had been working on all week.
"Morning Dad." Eric offered as he reached the bottom and his father looked up and smiled.
"Eric, you know your mother and I prefer that you dress before you come down."
"Yeah I know..."
"'Yes I know.'" His father corrected and offered no more conversation as he was clearly busy. Eric wanted to respond, but as he opened his mouth to speak his father left the house, gathering the files up in his arms, the now empty coffee cup, which was quickly cleaned away by the maid, the only indication that he had been there.
"So much for having breakfast with me this morning, huh Dad?" Eric muttered to himself as he started back up the stairs, the maid wondering if he had been addressing her quickly went into the kitchen to prepare the young Masters Morning meal.
The triple back-flip went perfectly, and the dismount loomed ahead. She had planned to do one last flip, but her legs had gotten tired long ago in the routine and if she wanted to be noticed, the dismount had to be at least tidy.
Her toned body responded to the commands her brain was sending out and in an instant she was landing upon the mat, knees slightly bent, and body at a slight angle before she straightened out and reached for the ceiling of the sports hall, the imaginary crowd screaming for more and she smiled.
"Diana!" Came a shrill cry from her gym mistress. "Move it out the way and let someone else take a turn!" The tall athletic afro-American girl blushed, the discolouration quickly hidden as she took a step away from the beam and another girl mounted.
Diana moved to the stands and picked up her bottled orange juice taking a long drink, watching as Mrs Cunningham praised and encouraged the girl now doing the more basic exercises. The gym mistress smiled and cooed as the white inexperienced athlete struggled to keep her balance, but when she looked upon Diana, all she saw in those hard blue eye's was hate.
"Diana!" Cunningham shouted again. "What are you waiting for? Hit the showers!" Diana fixed the gym mistress with a glare before picking up her bag and heading out of the sports hall, ignoring the giggling from the other white students.
"Bobby!" Came the sweet female voice from the bottom of the stairs as the youngest member of the Marshall family came bounding down them, pulling on his shirt as he reached the bottom. As soon as he was in mothering distance Sheila put a piece of toast in the boy's mouth and started to straighten his clothes.
"Sis, will you cut it out! I'm twelve, not two!" He said round a mouthful of toast and marmalade.
"Sorry Bobby, I'm just trying to make sure Miss Malone has nothing to complain about this time."
"Miss Malone is a pain, I was only late once last week, and that was because my clock broke..." He pulled on his collar as Sheila finished doing up the buttons and moved onto his hair.
Bobby got a welcome break from his sister's ministrations when the front door opened and their father came home. Sheila smiled and greeted her Dad with a huge hug, which was returned gladly.
"How was work Dad?" Asked Sheila, not noticing her brother rubbing and pulling his tidy hair, back out of place.
"Oh...long." Their father smiled as he hung the cap his wore, it bore the signature of the company he worked for, a security agency which paid him to watch the school grounds at night. "But it was quiet for a change." Sheila nodded and led him through to the kitchen were his breakfast was sat waiting. "Oh Sheila, you don't have to do this every morning...I know how much you do already and you shouldn't because you have school..."
"Its ok Dad I really don't mind..." She poured him some fresh coffee and handed him the cream, she knew he liked to add himself. "Besides, I like looking after you and Bobby."
"It should be me looking after you guys..." Bobby stood leaning against the door-frame as sadness gripped their hearts. "Your mother...would be so very proud of you both." Sheila smiled but behind the happy guise, tears threatened to fall.
"Oh...look at the time!" She said changing the subject and grabbing Bobby's lunch. "We better go..." She kissed her Dad's cheek. "Sleep tight Dad..." A comforting hand rested on hers before she and Bobby, left to catch the bus to school.
The knock at the door was expected and the blonde youth grabbed the last slice of toast and with it in his mouth he jogged to answer it.
"Late again Hank?" Said the dark haired boy with a smirk and rather than answer, Hank closed the door and locked it behind him. "The coach won't be happy if you're late today...it's a good job I came for you."
"I would have made it in plenty of time Eric." Hank said as he finished chewing his mouthful of dry toast.
"Sure you would." They started walking to school, Eric waving away the car that had brought him this far. "It's a big game today...we win this and the teams in the final for the first time in tens years!" Despite the exciting situation Eric had just described, the darker haired boy's face showed nothing but a bland emotionless expression.
"Yeah..." Hank said, noting the lack of enthusiasm in Eric's voice. "So why aren't you thrilled to pieces?"
"Oh I am..."
"Well if that's your winning face...I sure hope we don't loose." Hank smiled and ruffled Eric's hair, ruining the tidy style and started jogging. Eric ran a hand through his now unruly mop, brushing the strands back into place out of his eyes before he started jogging also, falling into step beside Hank.
"Very funny, fearless leader!" Hank glanced at Eric, he knew the older boy thought he was cheated out of the captainship of the team and Hank knew if Eric hadn't been getting over a pretty bad case of flu, he would have gotten a much harder run for his money. Hank stopped the jog as they reached the house they were heading for and patted Eric's back playfully.
"There's always next season Eric..." The darker haired boy's features didn't change, retaining the illusion that he didn't really give a damn.
"What-ever." Eric mumbled and looked at his watch just before, Presto stumbled out of the door. "Isn't that guy ever organised?" Said Eric with a smirk as the thinner, red headed boy tripped at the thresh-hold of the door and dropped his books. Paper floated out of reach and the pens clattered to the floor as Preston, AKA Presto, pushed his glassed further up his nose while simultaneously trying to stop the rest of his home-work gathering mud.
"Hang on there old buddy..." Said Hank, racing to help his friend while Eric stood and enjoyed the show. "You over sleep?" Hank asked as he helped gather the sheets together.
"Err no..." Presto's voice sounded even more raw than usual. It always had a rough edge to it, like he always had a cold or flu, but it was just the way he spoke. "Think I'm catching something..." He blew he nose into a kerchief he had handy, as if to underline the point.
"Err...I hate to break up this...what-ever it is..." Began Eric still stood at the gate, looking at his watch for a second time. "But were late for registration...again."
"Since when have you cared about being late?" Presto asked, then stood from gathering his muddy papers.
"Hey I don't...but my Dad does...now can we move it please...?" Eric didn't wait for a response, instead he started walking, shouldering his sports bag as he went.
"What's up with him?" Asked Presto, his voice giving a little squeak at the end of the sentence.
"You know Eric; he always looks on the bright side of life." Hank smiled as he took the books from Presto and put them in his own bag which was considerably lighter than that of the book worm. They started walking to catch up with the other boy who hadn't looked back to see if they were following.
"Oh hey I learnt a new trick..." Said Presto as he produced a pack of cards. "Pick one." He fanned them out so Hank could better choose. "Now don't tell me what it is..." He said as he closed the deck and shuffled them. Eric had heard the conversation and turned to see Presto fooling around with the damn deck of cards again. Smiling he waited for them to catch up and took a peek at the card Hank had in his hand.
"Oh brother..." Muttered Eric as Presto instructed Hank to place it back in the deck and then shuffled once more. Sheer concentration spread across the thinner boys' features, the eyes behind the spectacles intent and completely focused in the deck he held. After an agonising few minutes, Presto finally held up the seven of hearts.
"Is this your card Hank?" He asked, hope shining from his eyes.
"No." Announced Eric before Hank could reply and handle it a little more diplomatically than the rich boy had just done. "His card was the seven of spades..." Presto's expression changed from one of worry to elation.
"What are you so pleased for...you got it wrong?" Said Eric irritation in his voice.
"I got the right number though." He said as he pushed his glasses further up his nose.
"Don't be a dork all your life Presto..."
"Eric...!" Hank glared his dark haired friend, seeing absolutely no regret there at all about what he had just said.
"What?" Eric asked quite sincerely, and ignoring the hurt look in Presto's eyes he just walked ahead.
"Don't pay any attention to him..." Hank said as he walked at a slower pace with his friend of many years. He and Presto had been friends since kinder-garden and although a mix match pair, their friendship had never faltered through all this time.
"It's ok Hank." Presto said as he put the cards away. "Eric probably hit his head this morning when he tripped over some loose cash..." They both laughed as they continued the walk to school, neither noticing a single card on the path behind them. As the wind picked up, gently turning the card over...it was obvious to anyone passing, that the card was the seven of spades...
It was the final play of the game, third down with just over five yards for the touch down. Eric was beat as they huddled again to hear Hank's suggestion for the final play. They had all played well to get this far, only down by two points so a field goal would see the game won and with their team set to kick off next, that meant they could run the clock down by kicking it on side.
All the other boys in the Bronco's looked as tired as Eric felt as he spit out his gum shield and looked to their quarter back. Behind them in the stands the crowd was cheering, both home and away fan's ecstatic with the way the game was being played. But none of the boys had time to take in that much appreciated support from friends and family, they had a game to win. That was Eric's point of view on it anyway, considering he had no family in the stands cheering him on...
The boy beside Eric seemed not to care about the fact this was quite possibly the last play of the game, the ball in their possession with a chance to win as he ignored Hank as he was talking and stood to wave at someone in the stands. His big beefy arm knocked Eric slightly, the sheer weight of one limb, much heavier than Eric himself. Lewis was good for ploughing through the oppositions defence and done a good job of it, he was quite possibly one of the best players on the team thanks to the sheer size of him, but not at all the brightest...
"Knock it off Lewis!" Said Eric as he grabbed the boys arm and pulled it down. "That can wait to when the games over...!"
"Geez I'm sorry coach!" Lewis said with a snigger and Eric glared at him as the other boys in the team, none of whom really liked the rich kid much started to laugh. They all thought his old man had bought Eric onto the team with sponsorship from the family firm, and the new team strip which had Eric's family name on the sleeve. "Or is that manager?"
"Knock it off fella's!" Ordered Hank. "And focus on something more important ok...like winning this game!"
"So what's the plan fearless leader?" Eric asked glad for the change in topic and Hank, still obviously angry at him for that morning's little dig at Presto, turned to look anywhere else but at Eric.
"Were going for the goal, this close, it won't miss..."
"Stuff that idea...!" Said Eric questioning Hank's decisions as usual. "Let's go for the down! Fake the throw and dive right over their line...you'll get it no problem."
"And if it blows and I fumble...it's in their hands ready for the clock to run down and we loose! No were going for the kick..."
"No Eric!" Hank's blue eyes met the dark brown of Eric's and it was Eric who finally looked away, still not happy with the decision made, but what else could he do? Hank was the one who called the shots.
"Yeah, 'no Eric...'" Mimicked Lewis as he along with a hand full of other players left the field so the kicker could come on and do his thing. "Your pop might own the team...but that don't make you our captain! Stupid little rich kid!"
"Oh ouch, that hurt..." Eric replied sarcastically. "Yeah, you're right, having loads of money and everything I want is such a drag." He smirked at the bigger boy. "So hey, lard butt, don't screw up and let them through!"
"Who are you calling..."
"You, you moron! 'Cos lets fact it, it was the only thing that got you on this team in the first place. So you keep at the doughnuts and the only thing that's gonna stop you hitting the big time, is a heart attack..." The bigger boy had already removed his helmet and started towards Eric, intent on ripping that sarcastic tongue out of his head when Hank stepped in.
"Lewis!" Shouted Hank, so the taller and bigger boy heard. "Save it for the game..." Eric smirked as the big goon turned and stormed in the other direction, leaving Hank stood there just looking at him.
"What?" Asked Eric seriously holding his hands up innocently.
"Get off my field Eric..." Hank said simply before turning his back on him and walking back to join the rest of the team.
Presto was watching in the stands and had seen the mounting tension between the two boys; he knew the whole confrontation was largely down to Eric's big mouth, as usual.
"What's going on now?" Asked Sheila who was sat to Presto's left with her kid brother Bobby, who at this minute was devouring a hot-dog in one bite.
"Don't ask me..." Said Presto blowing is nose yet again. "I haven't got a clue about sports..."
Sheila giggled and shook her head. "I wasn't asking you Presto..." She replied, but not in a malicious manor, there wasn't a malicious bone in the red headed girl in fact, Presto wondered if she knew the meaning of the word as Sheila was the single most caring person her knew.
"Oh..." Said Presto with a shy smile and he started waving the small Bronco flag as Bobby belched.
"Well sis..." Began the small boy with a tone that indicated he knew everything...or at least everything about football. "Hank's going for the three points rather than the touch down...they got a good chance 'cos there so close."
"So if they score this goal...they'll win?" Bobby nodded answering Sheila's question. "GO BRONCOS!" She screamed, right near Presto's ear. The noise shook through his already aching head and he rubbed his ear, kneading away the pain. "Oop's sorry Presto...are you ok?"
"Yeah...fine. You got a great set of vocals on you. Have you considered joining the quire?" He was rewarded with a smile and they both turned their attention back to the game.
"Wow...Eric doesn't look happy..." Sheila said as the boy in question threw down his helmet and sat down on the bench.
"When is he?" Said Presto with a wide grin and Sheila and Bobby smiled. They all knew just what Eric's temper was like when he didn't get his own way. "Hey look...there's Dianna!" Presto stood and applauded as the cheer-leading team came back on to the side lines to cheer on the team. He didn't care he was the only one standing; he was more focused on the lovely form of his friend...
Friend. That's all she would ever view him as. She was beautiful, fit and good at everything she done, but he was a stereo-typical nerd...
He sat down as if shot and continued to watch as she, along with the rest of the cheer-leading squad, danced as they chanted, finishing by spelling the name of the team and doing an array of summer-salts and flips, leaving Presto utterly speechless...
Diana led her troop through the routine, the whole thing going as planned and without one mistake. She whooped with delight as she jumped her back arching till her foot almost touched the back of her head before landing and doing a split jump, her pom-pom's swooshing in each hand.
The troop came to a halt as the team on the field started the play and Diana headed over to the table to grab a cup of juice. She had also noticed the confrontation between Hank and Eric, and now the later of the two was obviously quiet upset, as he sat down on the bench, his helmet dangling in his hand between his legs and his sights firmly set on the grass at his feet, not paying attention to the game he was now no longer a part of.
As if sensing her stare, Eric looked up and right at her, his expression less than happy.
"Take a picture it'll last longer..." He said, his tone condescending, something Diana always hated about him.
"No thanks, a face like that would crack the lens." She smiled and held up the cup to her mouth and downed the cool refreshing juice. "So what's your big problem Eric?" She asked when he didn't have a snappy come back. "You not content with just being a part of the team you have to hog as much glory for yourself as possible?"
"They haven't won yet..." He muttered.
"So you want them to loose, just so you can prove you were right?"
"NO!" Snapped Eric almost getting up to stand, but his anger died quickly when the shouting from the field drew his attention...
Hank held the ball, as the team kicker ran up to it and kicked...
The ball soared up and towards the upright, and now Eric did stand up, preying to god that it went through the middle...
But it seemed God was not listening...
The wind was coming in strong from the east, and it tipped the ball just too much to the left, it hit the upright and fell unceremoniously to the ground.
"No good." Bellowed the referee and Eric's teeth gritted together.
"No shit Sherlock!" He shouted back and slammed his helmet to the ground. He was mad, at himself and at Hank for not listening, true the other boy couldn't have known the kicker would miss, but the least he could have done was discussed their options out with him. "Nice going fearless leader!" Said Eric as Hank came off the field holding his helmet at his side.
"Bite me Eric!" Hank replied, no were near the mood one needed to be in when Eric started.
"Oh, that's original...if I were captain, I would have..."
"Would have what Eric!?" Shouted Hank and squared up to the older boy, anger flashing through those narrow blue eyes and Eric had to look up to meet them, Hank being that fraction taller than himself. "You would have had the game won? Go on say it..."
"I would have made a different call..."
"That would have won the game?"
"No...just done it differently..."
"Well your not captain, and I done what I thought was right. We played the kick and didn't pull it off, but at least we tried! I don't care that we haven't won...at least we gave them a good run for their money..."
"Listen to Hank, Mister 'it's not the winning it's the taking part'." Eric used his best sarcastic tone of voice to which Hank glared at him all the more. "That's all well and good when you're trying to justify loosing..."
"I'm not trying to justify anything, especially to you Eric..." Hank held Eric's gaze for a few seconds longer before walking past.
"What do you mean by that?" Eric demanded walking to catch up with him but his march didn't last long when Hank spun around to face him once more, all but stopping him dead.
"What I mean is no one has to explain anything to any body! Just because your Dad poured stupid amount of money into the team, doesn't give you the right to dictate how we play, or give you our excuses when the team looses!" Eric couldn't think of anything to say, he thought that Hank of all the people in the school realised he didn't think he was special because of his family's wealth. It was at that moment, he knew he was wrong...
Eric looked away from the angry blue eyes still cutting into him and reached down for his helmet. He looked at it for a few seconds before putting it on, leaving the gum shield out so he could still speak to Hank, when his voice chose to return.
"I thought you considered me a part of the team Hank..." He replied finally, his voice low and raw with emotion, he didn't like confrontations with his friends, out of all of the people in his life, these were the people he respected and cared for most of all.
"I do..." Began Hank as he realised what he had said to the older boy.
"No you don't...you think like everyone else on this team! That I bought my way onto it!"
"Save it Hank! I don't wanna hear it!" With one pointed glare at his friend, Eric turned towards the field and ran on, ready for the last kick of the game, choosing not to hear the coach as he called the last play.
"What was all that about?" Asked Sheila as her younger brother Bobby stood and headed towards the sidelines and Hank. She knew he looked up to the older boy, he being an old flame of Sheila's and life long friend, Hank was more like the older brother Bobby never had...
She watched as the small boy made it to the bottom of the seated area and start talking with Hank, who just shook his head silently. Sheila looked at Presto still seated beside her and both of them rose, eager to know what had been said.
"...he's a waste of space anyways Hank. I don't know why you let him on the team to start with." Sheila heard her brothers last remark and looked up at Hank as she approached.
"Everything ok?" She asked meekly, but it was Bobby who answered.
"Just rich boy Eric thinking he knows everything again."
"Bobby..." She scolded him gently, she didn't like it when he ridiculed or called others, their mother had never liked it, and it was something Sheila was going to make sure Bobby remembered.
"I didn't let him on the team Bobby..." Said Hank quietly.
"I know...his Dad did." Bobby chuckled and his comment was heard by the other players leaving the field, all looking miserable until they understood who the small blonde was talking about and then they smiled and joined in.
"No." Said Hank firmly with a pointed look at everyone choosing to laugh about it. "He made it on the team himself! Before his Dad helped the team out, something which everyone seems to forget! I know he can be a pain in the backside..."
"And pig headed..." Said Diana.
"And spoilt..." Bobby was quick to join in.
"A know it all..." Presto said quietly.
"A friend." Sheila ended the conversation and turned to watch the game as the oval shaped ball was kicked...on side...
It was the last play of the game, with nothing to loose the coach called for the kick off to be on-side, with luck it would be picked off by one of their own and ran in for a touch down. With luck? Hell they needed a miracle!
With one last look at the clock, the kicker made his run and contacted the ball ever so slightly, but enough to get it rolling towards the on coming Bronco players, the opposing team coming head on, determined to keep the attacking team from their score zone. It was a boy close to Eric who picked up the loose ball as it bobbed along before them tantalizingly close.
The ball in the Bronco's possession once more, it was simply a case of getting the darn thing past the on coming crowd of black and white uniforms and on for the touch down, something that sounded a hell of a lot easier than it actually would be! It wasn't going to be easy, Eric new it, nothing ever was in his life, but he was going to prove that he wasn't just some rich kid! He could play this game, and he was good at it. Maybe not the best, but he was good. With a grunt and a growl, Eric ran along side the boy who had the ball as did some others...
All where fast, and one by one the escort of players that surrounded the carrier fell as they sacrificed themselves for the sake of the other guy to run on and win it for the team...Eric was no different...
There was only a few yards left to run, and slowly both Eric and Jon who carried the ball, picked up the pace. Both were tall and slim, both fast, their strides wide. Then two came from no where and Eric ran into them, Jon faking a pass to Eric as Eric crossed his path. The two goons in black and white fell for it, thinking Eric had the ball, they had tackled the wrong player before they realised the ball had not been transferred...
One hit high, the other went for Eric's legs, both hits were hard and Eric fell under the sheer weight and power of the tackles. Air exploded from his lungs and as he hit the ground another blow ensured he was gasping for breath, something which proved hard as the weight upon him from the other two players made it hard to draw breath...
He lay, pinned, unable to breathe and the boys who had took him down weren't moving quickly enough. He coughed and tried to push them up, but it seemed they were in no hurry. He knew it was because they were angry...Eric had saw Jon pass the line just before he hit the ground, but this wasn't funny! He had no breath in him and because of the goons still on him, pressing down hard as if in some kind of pay back for his team winning, he couldn't breathe!
He was getting light headed, his team mates to caught up in the celebrations to care about him, hoisting Jon high on their shoulders as the hero of the day. The crowd cheered, but it seemed as though the noise was coming to him from the end of a very long tunnel and getting further and further away...parents, teachers and comrades, all happy with the victory. Proud of their children their elation was clear in their voices.
As darkness started to creep into the edges of his vision, Eric could have sworn he heard every single voice on its own, calling, whistling. But none of those were for him...no one in that place new about Eric...or even cared...
He felt a terrible sense of loneliness as the blue sky above him, turned a depressing shade of grey...and only now did the boys get up...