An otherworldly and enchanting voice called out to him. It bore through the distinguishable silence he had come to know. The abyss of black silence took in the call and embraced it. It was the only sound in the void.
The call came again.
It carried like a song on the wind. Feminine, seductive, and demanding. The call demanded him.
Muffled sounds stood in the background. Familiar sounds. A car honk. Dogs barking. A whirl of a machine. Laughter and yelling. The muffled sounds grew stronger.
Rowan shook awake. His eyes wide and his heart beating with the panic of a waking nightmare. As the familiar space of his room brought the slow realization of consciousness, his panic came to a calm.
Rowan rubbed his hand across his face. Exhaustion still loomed in his body. He could still hear the womanly call of his dream in his mind. It was a call that had plagued him for the past two days. Although barely a whisper two days ago, the call had grown louder and felt like someone was speaking to him now.
For another five minutes Rowan lay in his full-sized bed. He wished he could sleep longer and convinced himself he needn't do anything. Work and school were figments of the past and he was truly rich and could lounge around all day playing games if he wanted.
The alarm clock rang. Reality.
Rowan groaned. He turned onto his side and looked down at the rugged floor. He scooted and let himself plop onto the floor. His body demanded laziness. Rowan turned onto his back. His eyes glazed over his red room. He read the inspirational quotes printed and hung on his wall.
“For when he wakes, he will move mountains.”
“Sometimes after working hard, you have to work a little harder.”
“Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.”
“Work hard, play hard; rest well, eat well; train hard, learn well.”
They never worked when first waking. If anything, they just made him want to get back under the blanket and pretend he would do all that later.
The memory of the call came to mind again. He didn't know what it was, but he wanted no part of it. Rowan finally mustered the strength to pick himself off the floor.
He dragged himself to the bathroom. He stared at his dull blue eyes, passable for grey, while he brushed his teeth. His reflection seemed to be mocking him.
The call came again.
“I don't hear you.” His throat felt hoarse. He hated mornings so much.
After a quick shower, Rowan felt a little more awake. He pulled on his jeans and rolled up the cuffs. He pulled on his grey socks with a checkered pattern along the rim. Throwing on a grey shirt and his favorite sky-blue button-down, a color that went well with his light olive-toned skin, Rowan took a quick look in the mirror. Rowan ran his hand through his wet, unkempt jet black hair. Good enough.
Rowan glanced at the clock. “Shit!”
He threw on his converse and grabbed his messenger bag. Rowan ran out of his apartment and hopped down the flight of stairs. His stomach rumbled, but he had no time to eat.
In front of the apartment building, a husky Salvadorian leaned against the car with his arms crossed and his foot tapping impatiently. Once he saw Rowan ran out of the building, he rolled his eyes.
“Eh, what else is new?” Rowan gave his best friend a playful grin.
“You'd rather sleep your life away, bro.”
“Not like I'd be missing anything.”
Alex got into the driver's seat of his Nissan. His dark hair was always kept short never past the ears and kept himself in shape. He was popular with the girls and a known playboy. He never stayed with a girl for long and had even been known to be a jerk about break-ups. Still, the girls chased him and every single one caught under his charm always thought they'd be the one to change him.
“It's all just hormones, man,” Alex had once told Rowan. “They say they're in love and sometimes they really think it, but they just want a good tumble in bed. I'm the ideal image. Nothing more.”
“And yet you still get all the girls.”
“Until they realize I'm not what they really want. I'm a shitty guy, Rowan. You're the kind of guy most girls really want.”
Unlike Alex, Rowan was far more conserved. He could be sociable and was well-liked by most people, but he preferred to keep to himself. He liked staying at home to work on his own little projects or read or simply veg out in front of the television.
Rowan leaned his head against the headrest of Alex's car. Sometimes he really did feel like life was passing him by, but most of the time, he just felt like he didn't belong here.
“You still look like shit,” Alex said, snapping Rowan out of his thoughts. “Are you still not getting any sleep?”
“An hour here and there.”
“You just need a good lay. That'll get you right to sleep.”
“I'm not like you, man.”
“You don't even get out there, bro. Your life is just going to slip by and you're going to be old and lonely.”
“Hey, I have big ambition and I'm working hard now so I can be rich and retired at thirty,” Rowan said.
“You just turned 23.”
“Ssh. I'm still in denial. Besides, I still have seven years to make all my work bear fruition.”
Alex roll his eyes. “I don't know how you do it. Barely any sleep, full-time student, working full-time, and somehow still have the energy to do your own shit.”
“Didn't you know? I'm not human.”
“Oh, yes, I completely forgot about that. Forgive me, my otherworldly friend.” Rowan punched Alex's shoulder. Alex burst into laughter.
Rowan glared at Alex. They pulled into the parking lot of their college. The lot was packed. Aisles were filled with cars waiting to move on while students ready to leave waited for a chance to drive out. Horns blared incessantly with rising impatience. Alex took one glance and made a U-turn. “Street?”
“You should have done that from the start.” Lucien pulled out his phone. He put one earbud into his ear and started his music playlist. The first song was a Queen classic. Perfect for starting his long day.
Alex pulled into an opened spot two blocks down the street. A small park was nested in the middle of the neighborhood. Mothers strolled down the paths with their friends while pushing their young. Dogs ran loos and fetched thrown sticks or frisbees. Children too young to be in school ran and screamed through the playground.
The surrounding houses were colorful. Blues and greens and yellows painted the street. But while the front lawns were bountiful with select flowers and maintained green grass, the houses themselves were often neglected. Many a house had faded exteriors and window sills rotted. Porches were dusty or packed with boxes and furniture. Two houses had cracked windows with duck-tape. It was a sad sight to see. In their prime, the houses were positively beautiful. A few houses had Mexican architecture integrated into the building. The clay walls with an arched gate was a pretty sight. Some houses had thin, plain pillars form around the porch and the backyard decks.
There was one house that always caught Rowan's eye though. It was a grand two-story building. Its walls were a beautiful lavender with a stoned foundation. The front lawn was perfectly maintained with lush grass and gardenias strewn along the base of the house. The porch was designed with Doric columns and the wood was polished. A black roof rested atop the building with two chimneys. This was the house Rowan dreamed of living in.
Rowan and Alex crossed the street to the college. “I'll see you after class,” Rowan said.
“Afraid you'll be late?”
“Nah, you know I don't care about that. I need to get a book for a project from the library.”
“Depends on your point of view.” Rowan heard the call again. He frowned and turned on his heel. “See ya.”
As usual, the library was empty. A couple of groups worked on their class projects or made failed attempts at working. Three students had their stuff spread across the table while they studied and a handful sat before computers searching the sites for things that had nothing to do with their classes.
Rowan walked through the aisles until he found the Psychology books. He picked up one of the books and quickly skimmed through the chapter labeled Schizophrenia Spectrum and Other Psychotic Disorders. Though this was supposed to be for class, there was a part of him that wondered if he was experiencing schizophrenia with the constant call he was hearing. He refused to acknowledge it but what else could it be?
“Abnormal Psychology,” A voice behind him said. “Planning on being that person who tells everyone what their problem is?”
Rowan looked over his shoulder. A young woman smiled at him. She had dark curly hair which fell onto her caramel shoulders and emerald green eyes. Lucien had never seen someone so beautiful up close. Her figure was average, with a bit of healthy meat on her bones. She had voluptuous hips, feminine curves hidden under a long dress. He chest was flatter than most of the girls in the school but they were attractive nonetheless. She wore a V-neck shirt to show her assets. Despite the feminine clothing, she wore a leather jacket only partially zipped-up and combat boots.
No, it wasn't her features that made her beautiful, it was the confidence brimming out of her. She held her head high and kept a firm hand on her hip. Her smile though filled with mischief was daring. Rowan smiled. “People's only problem is other people telling them what their problem is. I'm more than happy to fill that role.”
The girl laughed. “You're in Schneider's class, right? You sit in the back.”
Rowan nodded. His brow scrunched together. He scratched his cheek as he tried to recognize the girl. “We're in the same class?”
“...You don't remember me?”
The girl leaned forward and looked into Rowan's bluish-gray eyes. “I'm Abi. Abigail. I sit next to you.”
Abi was close to him now. He could feel her breath on his neck. “Oh. Sorry... I don't really pay attention to other people...”
“I'm just messing with you.” Abi slapped his shoulder playfully. “I haven't been to class in like a month or so. I'd be surprised if you actually did remember who I was.”
“So you like seeing people squirm.” Rowan tucked the Psychology book under his arm. He made his way to the check-out desk.
“It's fun. People are so worried about other people's feelings.”
“Yes... It's courtesy.”
“It's stupid. There's a lack of honesty in tact and courtesy.”
Rowan shrugged. “I guess.”
Abi watched him as the librarian entered the book into her system. The librarian handed the Psych book back to Rowan with the return deadline. Rowan stuffed the book into his bag. Abi followed Rowan out of the library.
The call again.
It was frustrating that despite the noise of boys hooting at passing girls, skateboarders, teachers sharing their class problems, and hundreds of shoes, heels, and flip-flops tapping along the pavement, Rowan could still hear the call loud and clear. He sighed and stopped at a vending machine. He bought an orange soda and took a dragged-out sip.
He glanced at Abi. She patiently watched him take his drink with a smile that suddenly made Rowan uneasy. Rowan lowered his drink, “...Yeeesssss?”
“Nothing. Just thought we should head to class together.”
Rowan pursed his lips. “Uh... I guess so....”
“Good! I'll be counting on you to help me catch up.”
“Is that you asking?”
“Sure.” Abi gave him a wink. She came to his side. All eyes turned to her as she walked. Her hips swayed side-to-side. She was about a head shorter than he, but her confidence was titanic. Everyone noticed.
As the walked down the halls, Rowan couldn't take the awkward silence that had settled. “Why weren't you in class for a month?”
“Had to save the world.”
Rowan blinked. “Oh. You're a protester.”
Abi tapped her chin. “Something like that.”
“Why come back after the month though? Wouldn't it be easier to wait until next semester?”
“Probably. But I know that I must be here now.”
Rowan rolled his eyes. He didn't like the cryptic answers. With the call beckoning him, the cryptic answers made him suspicious of her.
While they sat in class, Abi often leaned into him to get a little help over what had been covered. It felt strange to be getting so much attention from a girl he just met. Even when he tried explaining certain things that had passed, Abi seemed more concerned about looking into his eyes. Eventually, he decided she had no interest in the school material, but him.
Once the professor released the students, Rowan said a quick farewell to Abi and raced to the cafeteria. Finally free from the strange girl, he slowed to a walk. He opened the door to the cafeteria and found Alex with a pretty girl in the far corner. She had light brown hair braided and slung over her shoulder. When Rowan approached, the girl burst into laughter.
“I know! I couldn't believe it,” Alex said through chuckles. “How could anyone fall for something so idiotic?”
Alex glanced up, “Rowan! You're just in time! I was just telling Lydia here about that prank with the drama club when we were in high school.”
“Oh yeah...” Rowan pictured the stunned jocks faces. A smile came to his lips. “That was funny.”
Lydia shifted her entire body to face Alex. Another one caught, Rowan thought. “What's your next prank?” Lydia lit up with curiosity.
“Now, now,” Alex put up a hand, “I have given up such childish games and began a path toward maturity.”
“Oh no...” Rowan buried his face into his palm. He glanced around the cafeteria through the gaps of his fingers. “Alex, what did you do?”
Alex merely grinned.
“Don't give me that stupid grin. You've set up another prank already. Who is it this time?”
“You know me so well, Rowan. Of course, since you know me so well, you should already know who my targets are,” Alex paused for a moment. “Were.”
Rowan rubbed his forehead with his forefinger and thumb. “Who bothered you recently... no... would you?” Alex's devious grin grew larger. “Really? The baseball team?”
Lydia's eyes sparkled with the delight. “Why the baseball team?”
“Said some stupid racist comment. Although it was just stupid horseplay.” Rowan glared at Alex.
Alex leaned back in his chair. “Not to the people that heard them. Now justice has been dished... and it was delicious.”
“How much time do we have before they come after you? Do have time to leave?”
Alex glanced at his watch. “Nope. They will be here any second now.”
Rowan glanced around the cafeteria. There were no signs of trouble yet. If he could convince Alex to get up now, they could avoid the confrontation. As Rowan turned to argue with Alex, the cafeteria doors slammed open. Five of the baseball jocks stormed in. Their faces were red with fury. They scoured the cafeteria until they spotted Alex.
Rowan grabbed Lydia by the arm and hoisted her to her feet. “I suggest you leave.”
Lydia scoffed at Rowan until she turned and saw the five muscular men shove chairs and tables out of their way. She scooped up her belongings and ran to another table. Alex put his feet onto the table.
Rowan shoved the feet off, “No. We're running.”
“What? But then we'll look guilty.”
“They already know. You are not screwing up our chances in college. I worked too damn hard just to get the finances to come to college to let you mess it up. We're getting as far away from school property before they get us.” Rowan pulled Alex to his feet.
Alex grin. “Then you should know what to do to gain that distance.”
Rowan slapped Alex behind the head. “I'm going to get you for this. Come on.” Rowan pulled Alex to another exit. As soon as they opened the door, a strong gust of wind filled the room and tossed the jocks and others back. Rowan and Alex ran out of the cafeteria while the jocks found their bearings and knocked away the papers falling to the ground.
Rowan and Alex ran down the street with the jocks no far behind. They sprinted through the residential blocks. Alex was laughing the entire time. He taunted the jocks and sprinted faster. Rowan glanced over his shoulder. The peeved jocks would be upon them in a minute. Just one more block away from the school and Rowan would be satisfied.
They passed Alex's car and went into the park. It was currently deserted except for a lone man with his nose buried in a book and his dog. Rowan skidded to a stop.
“Are we done running,” Alex asked.
Rowan shot a glare. “This is your fault, dumbass.”
The jocks surrounded the two. Alex shrugged. “You enjoy it as much as I do.”
“Look,” Rowan turned his attention to the jocks, “I don't know what he did but can we just move past it?”
“Hell no. That little shit is going to be pummeled,” One of the jocks said. He was large. He had a bit of a gut but his arms were massive. His short black hair was sleeked back. “There is no forgiveness for him.”
“The little shit got us suspended! We're going to kill him,” A red-head said.
Rowas glanced at Alex. His arrogant smirk was still going strong. I'm going to kill him. Rowan returned his attention to the jocks, “How?”
“The little shit got us high,” Another, more lean, jock answered.
“I gave you guys brownies,” Alex retorted. “I also said they were from my friend Mary. It's not my fault you five are too dimwitted to know what they were.”
“Alex, please,” Rowan said. “Look, he apologizes. He didn't mean to get you guys in trouble.”
“Yes, I did.”
“There are no negotiations,” A short guy said. His bared forearms were large and toned. He had curly blonde hair reaching just past his ears. He held himself with the utmost confidence. Clearly, he was the captain. “We'll leave you alone if you get out of our way.”
“I can't do that... though I should.” Rowan glared at Alex again.
“Fine. Then we'll just beat you with him!”
The red-head lunged at Rowan. Rowan stepped aside and let the jock stumble forward. He turned on his heel and kicked the jock behind the knee. The red-head tumbled to his knee. Rowan rounded another kick and knocked the jock down. The jock with black hair charged Rowan next. Rowan caught the jock's punch and pulled him forward. He turned and threw the jock onto the red-head.
Rowan looked at the other three. “I beg you. Just forget about this.”
The captain raised an eyebrow. He put his fists into a boxing position. “So you know how to fight. Don't think it'll save you.”
Rowan secured a fist at his waist and squatted slightly. He exhaled, feeling himself become one with the wind. The other dark-haired jock ran forward and tried to tackle Rowan. Rowan threw an uppercut and connected with the jock's chin. With the momentary daze, Rowan swiftly leaned his hip into the jock and threw him over his shoulder. He resumed his previous stance with his full attention on the captain.
The captain crept closer. He threw a fast punch. Rowan felt the current of the wind push him out of the way in time. Rowan pushed the captain back.
The call came again. It felt like the womanly call was right next to him, singing into his ear.
The captain threw a roundhouse kick at the now distracted Rowan. It connected with Rowan's shoulder and pushed him off balance. Rowan quickly moved to defense but the captain threw a hard punch into Rowan's stomach. The pain vibrated through him and knocked the wind out of him. He stumbled back and tensed.
“You're not the only one who knows how to fight.” The captain came with another kick. This time Rowan blocked the kick with his forearm. The call still loud in his mind, so much so he was sure he was actually hearing it, enraged him. Rowan called for the wind. He jumped and kicked the captain square in the chest with both feet. A burst of wind exploded from his soles and threw the baseball captain clear across the park.
“I'm sorry,” Rowan said. He jammed his fingers into his ears as he tried to ignore the call. He looked back to see Alex and the last jock exchanging blows. Neither bothered to block and each hit connected with their faces. Alex staggered to the side from the last hit. They were near the end. Alex tightened his fist and threw all his weight into the punch. The weighted punch connected with the jock's jaw. He fell to the floor and coughed up a tooth. Alex threw a fist into the air in victory.
With the call ceased for the moment, Rowan pulled his fingers out of his ears. He stormed over to Alex and punched him in the face. “Ass!”
Alex tumbled to the ground and laughed. “You didn't have to get involved.” He climbed to his feet. “I love a good fight.” He rubbed his jaw. “Damn. That punch was harder than even the jock's. You used the wind, didn't you?”
Rowan crossed his arms. “You deserve a hell of a lot more. Now come on. Let's get out of here before the tried make yet another attempt.”
Alex glanced at the four groaning jocks. “Those martial arts classes sure did come in handy.” He followed Rowan to the park's exit.
“With how often you do stupid shit, it was a necessity.”
Alex glanced over to the baseball captain. He writhed in pain. “You went a little overboard with the captain though, don't you think? You didn't have to use your wind on him.”
His annoyance rekindled as the call came again. “I let my emotions get the best of me.”
Alex frowned. They made their way to the car. “I've never seen you do that. You've always had complete control of the wind. Do you think this lack of sleep is getting the better of you?”
Rowan inhaled deeply through his nose. He tried to block out the deafening call. “I refuse to let it.”