ick. Tick. Tick. The second hand of the school clock continued its laborious travel around its face, as the students in Mr. O'Halloran's Algebra II class periodically checked to see if the time was moving any slower than it already was. Some of the students were laboriously taking notes, others were dooding on their pads of paper, and a couple were falling prey to the epidemic of Bobbing Head Syndrome. All the while, the clock continued ticking; only 1,649 seconds until lunch.
Sitting in the second row from the door, three desks back, one particular student was making strange drawings on his notepad. His name was Hogan, a junior in the town's only high school. He was as close to the middle of the road as one could guess in every category: light brown hair styled somewhat to make his bangs fall just above his forehead, brown eyes squinting with his effort in his scribblings. His wardrobe was equally nonchalant: a black leather jacket covering a deep burgundy T-shirt, with blue jeans and sneakers that were made for a sport he didn't play. He'd glance up at the dry-erase board every now and then, fooling Mr. O'Halloran into thinking that he was actually paying attention to the lecture on the equation for an ellipse. Fact was, he could half-listen to the lessons that were being given and still coast his way to a mid-to-high 80 on each test.
Hogan's doodling continued on, though. Semicircles and diagonal lines, trapezoids and spirals, something that would win him an award for abstract art if he ever bothered to submit it to an art show. The designs seemed to be telling him a story, like some secret code that he would later transmit to a friend for future reading. But as he went on, there was something about his activity that bothered him. It was as if these scrawlings had no flow or meter to them, gibberish that was more worthy of being in alphabet soup than any sort of message. Why he felt like this was a message was beyond him; after all, he'd never really doodled before in class, and no he was trying to find some sort of significance to what he was writing.
His internal search for answers was abruptly interrupted as the intrusive school bell rang in its machine gun-like tintinabulation. He closed up his binder, satisfied for finding something to do that made the time seem to go faster than itself, and got up from the desk to exit the classroom.
Lunchtime was a bit of a relaxation time for Hogan, particularly on Fridays, when he had no fifth period. This gave him well over an hour to sift through his class material and study up for future tests and assignments. Other times, he'd go to the library and pick out a book to thumb through. That was the case on this day, as Hogan passed on food for an opportunity to get a decent amount of reading in. He walked down the hallways of the open-air school, seeing clumps of people here and there clutching their red-striped lunch trays, scarfing down bean burritos and Hostess Cupcakes, talking of the usual fare: movies, television, pop music, members of the other sex. Hogan never was much to associate himself with a group of people; he'd just as soon do things on his own than look for the approval of others to do them. He opened the glass door to the library and headed inside.
His binder in hand, Hogan headed to the same area he always lingered in when in the library: the science-fiction and fantasy section. It wasn't even a section, really: just two bookcases worth of old, dog-eared books from authors who Hogan barely if at all recognized. He'd probably read half of them by now, either from start to end or partway and given up on them. The majority were paperback; those that were hard-bound were even less appealing as they had no jackets, meaning a drab brown or dark green binding was soliciting his attention.
As he scanned each shelf, looking for a new book to dive into, one particular volume caught his eye. It was hardbound like some of the others, but it seemed brand new. Instead of the lifeless earth-tone cover, this was an almost fluorescent orange. There was no title on the binding, nor could one be found on the front. Intrigued, Hogan plucked it off the shelf and sat down at a nearby table to check it out.
He waved past the first blank pages, and the story therein seemed to begin immediately. No title page, no copyright notice, not even a small blurb about the plot in the front. Still, his curiosity had not worn off, and he continued reading it. The story seemed to be about some person named Ki'rath, or at least that was what he derived from it. There was little description of scenery or imagery, and even the protagonist himself wasn't well-detailed. In fact, the more Hogan read through it, the more the book seemed like some sort of biography on the main character than an actual story.
The Ki'rath will save the universe from the ageless evil. The Ki'rath will bend time and space, possessing powers beyond those of a mortal. Only the Ki'rath can make sense of the ancient language. When the time comes, the Ki'rath will be summoned to a new world where he will learn to build his powers. Others will help the Ki'rath, but it is Ki'rath alone that must face the ultimate evil.
The book continued on, mentioning a charm that the Ki'rath was created to protect, and a ceremony that empowers the person who possesses it. It also mentions the presence of a guide that is supposed to instruct the Ki'rath on how to use his powers, powers that seem to include the manipulation of time and magnificent strength.Whoever this Ki'rath is must be one heck of a superhero, Hogan pondered as he paused in his reading momentarily.
He glanced at the clock right above the door. 1:55. Sixth period was going to start soon. He looked back down at his book, realizing that he had already gone through at least a third of it even though it seemed to be at least 300 pages long. Not wanting to put it back on the shelf, he dog-eared the page he was on and took it to the checkout counter.
The librarian, busy in her clerical work, looked up to see Hogan standing at the counter, his usual smirk gracing his face. "You want to take that book out, Hogan?"
Hogan nodded. "I couldn't put it down."
"I noticed," said the librarian. "You've been sitting there like a rock for over an hour." She took the book from Hogan and opened the back cover. There was no checkout card. "That's odd... it looks like I missed one." Flipping through the pages, she furrowed her brow. "Are you sure this book is supposed to be in here?"
Hogan shrugged. "It was on the shelf. Why?"
"Because it isn't in English," she replied. "It doesn't look like any language at all, actually. It's just a bunch of squiggles on a page."
Hogan looked at the page he stopped at. It was composed entirely of shapes and lines - the same characters that Hogan had been writing on his notebook in 4th period. A caterpillar began weaving its cocoon in Hogan's stomach.
"Uhh... I think I should take that with me," he said, slowly taking the book out of the librarian's hands.
"Well, if you can make sense of it, be my guest."
Hogan plopped the book on top of his binder and left the library just as the end-of-period bell started to ring.
When he came outside, it was sprinkling. Odd, he thought, I never heard anything about rain today. He sheltered the book and binder with his jacket as he trotted to the science building for his last class.
Sixth period chemistry was a blur to Hogan. He seemed to remember something about molarity and Avogadro's number, but his mind kept going back to the book he was reading in the library. Those letters, he thought, how could I have known what they were going to mean? He suddenly had an epiphany, and took out the piece of paper which he used for doodling. The letters didn't spell anything out to him; however, they did seem to have some sort of an order to them, as if he was writing the alphabet of this book. While the teacher wasn't looking, Hogan would capture glances at his book, trying to reconcile the letters there with that which he had written. This was beginning to take on a eerie overtone, he realized. Why hadn't I ever seen this book until today? Why is it written in a way that only I can read? Why does it keep talking about a hero chosen to combat some "ageless evil"? Is it me that this book is talking about?
The final bell rang. It felt like less than five minutes had passed, and already class was over. He slowly made his way outside, where the sprinkle had grown to an all-out storm. The dark gray clouds seemed to stand still overhead, serving no higher purpose than to dump as much precipitation onto Hogan as possible. Never having thought of bringing an umbrella, Hogan now had to walk home in the rain, his bangs now clinging to his forehead. At least my jacket is waterproof, he thought as he slowly made his way home.
The sky began to churn somewhat, and flashes of lightning were illuminating the sky momentarily. Hogan counted the delay of the thunderclap on the first strike of lightning; it was 16 seconds apart, meaning it was still some distance away from him. A second bolt flashed, and the clap came only 7 seconds away now. Minutes later, there was a third flash of brightness, and it almost sounded like it was right behind him.
He had to find shelter, and quickly. He scanned the area, locating a fast-food restaurant about 100 yards away. He began to run towards it, the rain distorting his vision as it splashed in his eyes, his face upturned from the speed of this running. He saw the building come closer and closer, his lungs straining to supply him the oxygen. 50 yards away now, then 20, then 10...
A loud boom nearly deafened Hogan for a split-second, and his vision turned white as a bolt of lightning struck right through him.