Twenty-One Years Ago: Day 1
“Mom, why can’t I go to school anymore? I’m not doing bad or anything,” Lance said, sitting in the back of the SUV. He didn’t dare look at his mother or the driver. He wanted to, but he knew he’d regret it.
“You’re not learning anything in that sorry excuse for a school. I told your father you should be homeschooled. I swear, Lance. Why is this so difficult for you?” His mother asked.
“I don’t know. I thought I was doing good. I get B+’s all the time in class. I just got an A on my spelling test. Ms. Hopewell said I got the highest score in the class. That’s good, right?” Lance asked, already knowing her answer.
“Good? You think that’s good? This is why I’ve taken you out of that place. I should have a talk with the board and have that woman fired. No son of mine will be taught such basic material. Grades like these are nothing to be proud of. I can forgive the A but a B? No, Lance. That’s not acceptable.”
Lance winced at her words and shrank into the set. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. It’s our fault. Don’t worry, son. I’m here to help you. That’s what a mother does. She helps her child in any way she can. Lucky for you, I’ve already made something that will help.”
Lance looked up and met his mother’s gaze. “Am I going to a new school?”
“Sort of. One that’s worth your time and ours. And the best part, you don’t have to leave the house or anything. I’ll make sure you’ll live up to the Logan name. Hey, don’t be sad. You get to play in your room for a week before we start. I’d like to start as soon as possible, but your father says it’s good for your development.”
The driver cleared his throat. “Mrs. Logan, we’re approaching the gates. Shall I park near the front entrance or the rear?”
“Front. Lance, when we get inside, go to your father’s study. I’ve heard the staff has had trouble getting you to go,” His mother said.
“I don’t like it. He asks too many questions,” Lance said.
“That’s his job, sweetheart. He asks those questions to make sure he understands you.”
The driver pulled into the Logan estate. The main house was surrounded by foliage. Staff tended the grounds as they passed. The driveway was a mile long, but Lance didn’t mind. He wished it was longer. He’d rather be doing anything else than talk to his dad. The driver, Michael, stopped the car next to the massive fountain in front of the lawn. His mother got out of the car fist and walked inside. Lance stayed in the car.
“Hey, Lance. I know this is scary, but your folks are just doing what they think is best for you. If you want, I could do another lap around the house. Buy you some more time,” Michael winked. Lance smiled. He liked Michael. He was the only one that didn’t treat him like a disappointment. Michael had been working for The Logan Family for five years as their driver. He spent more time with him than he did with his own parents.
“Heh, thanks, but I think I should go inside. They’re already mad at me,” Lance said, grabbing his bookbag and stepping onto the stone pathway. “I may need a getaway car if things go bad. Meet me in the back in five.”
Michael laughed and gave Lance a salute. “Aye aye, Captian Lance.” Michael drove the car into the garage, and Lance walked inside.
The gigantic door loomed over him. He walked through these doors more times he could count, but this time was different. He wanted to turn and run away. He could probably make it to the gates before someone dragged him back. Signing, Lance walked inside.
“Good afternoon, Young master. How was school?” Evan asked, opening the door for him and taking his bag.
“Mom took me out of it. So good, I guess?” Lance shrugged. He laughed at his joke, but Evan didn’t. He was trying to hide his concern, but Lance noticed. “I’m hungry. Can I have my snack now?”
“Unfortunately, your father requested I take you to him as soon as you got inside,” Evan said, placing Lance’s bag on the hook. “I’ll have it ready for you as soon as your session is done, okay?”
“Okay,” Lance said, disappointed. “I knew I should’ve run.”
As they walked down the west hallway, Lance asked, “Who d you think would win in a race? Me or you?”
Evan cracked a smile. “If that’s your way of asking if you could outrun me, I’d say I was faster. Don’t, by the way.”
“I wasn’t gonna!” Lance said, falling back.
“Lance,” Evan warned. “Don’t do it.”
Lance rolled his eyes as Evan opened the door to his father’s study. That’s one thing Lance didn’t want to be when he got older. A psychologist. Too many books and talking to people was one of his least favorite things to do. Unless they were like Michael, he could speak to him forever.
“Master Logan, I’ve brought Lance as requested,” Evan said, bowing.
“Leave us, Evan. Thank you,” Lance’s father said, waving him away.
Even bowed and closed the doors behind Lance. Locking him in. His father’s study/office was bigger than it needed to be, in Lance’s opinion. How many shelves of books did he need? Lance sat in front of his father’s desk and waited.
“Lance, how are you?” His father asked.
“I’m okay,” Lance said under his breath. “Mom took me out of school.”
“I know that must be hard for you. The friends you’ve made. Your best friend Kyle is going to be devastated. I know you two were close. Change can be scary. How do you feel right now? Are you angry at us?”
“A little,” Lance said. “It’s not fair. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Of course, son. I believe you. However, your mother and I believe you need a better learning environment. We thought enrolling you in a private school would be helpful, but the more we thought about it, the more we knew you deserved better. We just want what’s best for you. You know that, right?” His father said, placing his hand on Lance’s. “We love you.”
For a moment, Lance heard some sincerity in his father’s voice. It didn’t last long.
“Your mother has a surprise for you,” His father said, standing up. He was wearing his favorite silver watch with a tucked-in button-down white shirt and slacks. ” Follow me.”
Lance’s father led him down to the est wing of the house. His mother’s wing. He wasn’t allowed to go there unless he was with his father or approved staff. It reminded him of a hospital. Large warning signs were plastered on all of the doors, along with keypads. Several of her medical staff watched them approach and moved out of the way. They wore either labcoats or hazmat suits. Lance never understood what his mom did. All he knew was that she was like a doctor, but not really. They approached his mother’s lab and walked inside. His father wrapped his arms around his wife and kissed her.
“Mary, you were right. We need to do this now,” His father said with a concerned look.
“Of course I’m right. I’m always right. You should know that by now, Arin.” Mary went over to Lance and patted his brown hair. “Okay, Lance. I need you to be a big boy, okay?”
“I thought you said I had a week before I started school? What happened to that?” Lance asked, backing up.
Mary looked back at Arin. Both of them nodded, and she turned back to Lance, smiling. “It’s going to be okay. We just want to make sure everything’s okay with you. You know I’m like a doctor, right? I’ve been working on something that can help you with school and life. You know our family means a lot to Zone 9. Our name carries weight. Everyone in it is part of a team. What happens when a part of the team isn’t as strong as the others?”
“The team fails?” Lance asked.
“Exactly. If one person fails, then we all do. We can’t let that happen. You’re still young. We still have time to help you develop. I want to show you something,” Mary grabbed Lance by the shoulders and guided him to the room next to her lab. It was a large warehouse with a small glass box in the center. The box was as big as his room, but something about the way it was step up made Lance uncomfortable.
“Mom?” Lance asked, shaking. “What’s that?”
“The beginning, my son. Don’t worry; we’ll be here every step of the way,” Mary said as two staff members grabbed Lance by the arms and “guided” him towards the box.
“MOM! I’M SCARED!” Lance yelled as they tossed him inside. Lance beat on the glass, but it didn’t budge. “MOM! DAD!”
Both of them looked at him then disappeared back into Mary’s lab.
The lab staff had to hold him down to administer his daily injection. It felt like fire in his veins. No matter how much he screamed or begged, his parents just looked at him. He could hear their comments when they observed him.
“It’s a simple problem, Lance. Answer it,” His father said, looming over him.
“I-I don’t know,” Lance said. “It’s too har-” Lance was knocked down by his father’s backhand. He didn’t dare cry. He knew what that meant.
“Answer. It. Lance,” His father said.
Trembling, Lance picked himself up and grabbed the pencil. “You’re mother could solve this at your age. We’ll give you five more minutes,” His father said, exiting the glass box.
Lance fought back the tears as he wrote his answers. He placed the pencil down and sat back.
“Incorrect,” His mother’s voice boomed over the intercom. “Again, Lance.”
“I don’t know how to do it,” Lance whispered. “It’s too hard.”
“You’ll stay up until you get it right,” Mary said as the staff brought him new worksheets. “No mistakes, son.”
Lance looked down at the paper and tried again. He didn’t get any sleep that night.
Lance closed the chemistry book he was reading and opened the next one. He was exhausted, but he had to keep going. He didn’t want to get hurt again. His father grew more and more impatient with his progress. So did his mother. At least some problems were getting easier. Whatever they were giving him was starting to work a little. He could feel it. It was nowhere near the pace his parents wanted. All he could do was study and pray they’d let him go back to his everyday life soon. They did not.
Year 1: Age 6
“I’m not done?” Lance asked. “How am I not done?”
“While you have made a drastic improvement in your education. You’re still not ready. You’re not learning fast enough. Even now, you’re losing so much knowledge,” Mary said, sitting outside the glass box. A small speaker was in her hand.
“Why couldn’t you just get me a tutor or something? Why this? Why me?” Lance asked. “Look at me, mom! Please let me out. I’m smarter now. I’m good enough now. Let me out.”
“Not yet. You still have a long way to go,” Mary said, standing up. “Goodnight, son.”
Lance beat on the glass. “MOM! MOM!” Lance screamed. She turned off the lights, and the room went pitch black.
Year 4: Age 10
“Your mother and I are very proud of your progress. Lance? Are you listening?” Arin asked. “Lance!”
“I hear you,” Lance said calmly, refusing to look at his father.
“Then answer me,” Arin said, biting back his anger.
“I did,” Lance said. “What do you want? I’m busy.”
“What did you just say?” Arin asked. “Look at me, Lance. Now!”
Lance rolled his eyes and turned to his father. “Yes?”
“Looks like we need to fix that attitude of yours,” Arin said, crossing his arms. “I’ll tell your mother to correct your next dose and give you a higher dose of mood inhibitors.”
“Do what you have to do. You already have anyway,” Lance said, coving his face with the book.
His father turned away before he did something he’d regret. Lance watched his father leave and caught a glimpse of his own reflection. He looked older. “Was it because of the medicine or sleep deprivation?” Lance thought as he sat up and walked closer to his reflection. He grabbed at a patch of grey hair on the top of his head. “What’s up with my hair?”
Year 10: Age 16
“Tonight’s the night,” Lance thought as the lights turned off. He heard footsteps approach his box. “At least two. They sound like they’re carrying something. Food? More books? Don’t matter. It’s now or never.” His parents were asleep in their rooms, so it was now or never. He had one shot at this. He clenched the sharpened pencil in his hands and waited.
Thinking he was asleep, the staff brought in the creates and started removing the old books and replacing them with new ones. One left the room to get the other box, leaving his friend inside with Lance. At first, he was hesitant but quickly got over it. They did this to him. They were just as guilty. They deserved this. In one swift motion, Lance stabbed the pencil in the staff member’s neck. Lance kept stabbing him over and over again until he fell to the ground. Dead. Lance quickly searched the body for anything he could use. He found an injection gun they operated on him and vials of that serum his mother made. Lance hurried behind the desk and waited for the other staff member to come back. When she saw the body, she was about to run out when Lance came up behind her and injected the serum into her neck.
“Let’s see how you like it,” Lance whispered as the guard grasped at her neck. Her eyes turned blood red, and she scratched at her throat, which was swelling to the size of a giant balloon. The injection site turned a purplish-blue color, and so did the rest of her skin. In moments she fell to the ground gasping for air. Lance picked up the vial and read the label. It was poison. “Why would you have this?” Lance asked, then it clicked. “You were planning on killing me.” Lance couldn’t believe it. Was he that much of a disappointment? Was he not progressing fast enough? How could they? Lance took the vials off the female staff member and put their bodies in the creates. He took a step outside the glass box and nearly burst into tears. “Ten years. Ten years in that box. Is this real?” Lance thought as he sprinted towards the lab door. He took one last look at the glass box. His world for the past ten years then bolted out of the east wing, down the hall, and out the front door. He didn’t stop running.
Outside the gate, Lance panted as he’d just ran a marathon. An he felt amazing. A smile spread across his face as he looked back at his home and laughed. He forgot how ridiculously big the house was for the three of them.
“Who’s there?!” A guard asked, flashing a flashlight in Lance’s direction. “Master Lance?”
Lance stepped out and saw it was Michael. “Michael?”
Michael dropped his flashlight and hugged him. “I thought something happened to you,” He sobbed. “They told me you left.”
Lance froze. He’d never seen Michael like this. He thought he was faking for a moment but realized Michael was shaking. I heard no malicious intent in his voice and hugged him back. “I kind of did.”
“God, look how big you’ve gotten. Not a little boy anymore, huh?” Michael said, smiling and ] wiping his face. “What happened to your hair? Is this your edgy teen phase?”
Lance laughed. “I don’t think so. I didn’t get one. You got old.”
“Excuse you! I call it maturing. Ladies love it,” Michael said, looking back at the house. “Where were you all this time?”
“As my those monsters you call masters. I’m sure they’ll tell you a load of ********. They locked me in a box in Mary’s lab and told me I was a failure. they injected me with something that made me change. I can’t explain it. Well, I can. In detail, but I don’t want to bore you. I’ve been locked in that **** box for ten years. You have to believe me. Please, Michael. Please believe me.”
“I believe you. If that’s true, then you need to tell the guard.”
Lance laughed. “Tell them what? My family locked me in my mother’s lab and tortured me into becoming smart? That sounds idiotic. Plus…I did something bad.”
“Like what?” Michael asked.
“They were planning on killing me, Mike. I saw them bring in crates to dispose of my stuff. They had poison on them too. Look.” Lance searched his pockets and found nothing. “I know I had it. It must have fallen out of my pocket when I bolted.”
“What did you do, Lance?”
“I defended myself,” Lance said.
Michael’s face turned white. “You…attacked them? How bad?” Lance didn’t answer. His guilt spoke for him. “Jesus, Lance!”
“They deserved it! They knew I was down there and did nothing. They were just as guilty,” Lance said, shaking his head. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“You need to go,” Michael said. “I’ll bring the car around and grab some of your things. Stay here and keep your head down.”
“Wait, hold on. You’re helping me? How do I know you’re not going to alert them?” Lance asked, backing away. He could see the hurt on Michael’s face.
“I’d never do that. You’re like a little brother to me. Why would I do that?” Michael asked. “Just wait here, okay?” He took a few steps towards the house then stopped. “Are you hungry?”
“A little,” Lance said, sitting on the ground.
“I’ll grab something from the kitchen on the way back.” Michael tossed him the keys. “If I’m not back in ten minutes, then leave. I’ve got some cash in the car. It’s nowhere near the amount you’re probably used to, but it’s something.”
“Thanks,” Lance said, burying his head in his arms. “I’ll wait.”
Michael nodded and walked back into the house. He returned ten minutes later with a bag over his shoulder. “Hey, sorry I’m late. I had to tiptoe. Last thing I wanted to do was wake everyone.” He sat the bag in front of Lance. “Food, some clothes, and cash. Enough to get you started. Hold on; I’ll grab the car. Can I have the keys back?”
Lance tossed him the keys and waited for him to return. When Michael pulled up next to him, Lance climbed into the backseat and sobbed. Michael started moving the car away from Lance’s home and onto the main road. “Have you ever heard of this game called “King of the World?” Probably not. It’s this competition where if you win, then you get to become king. Money, power, and probably ladies. All yours if you win.”
“Never heard of it,” Lance said, wiping his eyes.
“I think you should do it. It’s a chance for you to start over. I doubt your folks would even think to look for you there. Don’t worry; I won’t tell them where you are. I was planning on quitting anyway. Without you, things got boring. I was so worried, and no one told me anything. Here.” Michael handed his phone to Lance. “I pulled up the sign-up page. I took the liberty of filling out some info for you. You’re welcome.”
Lance looked at the info and chuckled. “Seriously? Michael Hanson? Where have I heard that name before?”
“It’s a fantastic name. Very manly. Um, how um, how old are you now?” Michael asked.
“Sixteen. ****, I’m sixteen,” Lance said. He stared out the window and saw new flashy buildings and cars zoom past them. Even Michael’s phone was new. “I’ve missed so much.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll catch you up,” Michael said, turning into a hotel. “I’ll go get you a room. Phone please.”
Lance finished typing in his face info and handed it back. “Okay.”
Michael forced a smile and walked inside the hotel. Lance watched people walk in and out of the hotel. “Even the fashion has changed. Is that what people are wearing now?” Lance scoffed. He’s never been into fashion, but he knew what he liked. He spent the last ten years in scrubs so anything was an improvement. Michael walked back out and waved him inside. Lance was quiet when he walked with Michael into the hotel. He’d never been shy, but he hadn’t been around people in so long. It was nerve-wracking.
“Hey, it’s alright. You’re okay,” Michael said, looking over his shoulder at Lance.
“Hello there,” The elevator attendant said with a big smile. Her name tag said, “Cindy.”
“Hey, this is my little brother, and we need to go up to floor ten,” Michael said, showing his room key.
“Hi,” Lance said quietly.
“Hey, what’s up? You guys look tired. I hope you get a nice rest and let me know if you need anything,” Cindy said, scanning her keycard to the elevator and pressing the ten floor. “There you are. I’ll be here all night if you guys need anything.”
“Thanks, Cindy. We appreciate it. Mike, say bye to the nice lady.”
Lance scowled at him. “Bye,” Lance said, walking into the elevator. Once the door closed, Lance elbowed Michael in the side.
“Ow! What was that for?” Michael asked, rubbing his side.
“You know,” Lance said as the elevator opened and they walked to their room. “I got us one room. I hope that was okay.”
“It’s fine. I-I don’t want to be alone right now,” Lance said.
Michael opened the door and sat Lance’s bag down on his bed. “We can go shopping tomorrow for clothes and stuff. We’ll need to be careful. Your parents we’ll–“
“They’re not my parents,” Lance said coldly.
“Right. Sorry. They’ll be looking for you if they haven’t started already. I promise I won’t let them catch us. You trust me, right?” Michael asked.
“Yeah,” Lance said. “I trust you.”
Michael smiled. “Good. That’s good. Anyway, I’m exhausted. I call the first shower. When I’m done, I’ll order a pizza; then we can watch something or go to sleep. Whichever comes last. BRB.”
Lance watched Michael go into the bathroom and turn on the shower.
“He’s going to betray you. Just like they did. He thinks he has you, but he’s wrong. He probably already called them. They might be on their way. You can’t go back to that hell box. You can’t. He’s not your friend. He’s not your friend. You don’t have friends. I need to get out,” Lance thought. Lance walked into the tiny kitchen they had and grabbed a knife. He hid by the bathroom and waited. Michael didn’t stand a chance. Lance heard the door open and stabbed Michael in the chest over and over. Tears ran down his face as he killed his only friend. “I’m sorry, Mike,” Lance sobbed. “I can’t let you betray me. I can’t. Forgive me.”
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