Chapter 1 Part 2: New Faces

Part 2 of the first chapter of my WIP novel. Click here or visit my recent posts to see part 1. Likes and follows greatly appreciated, as is any constructive feedback!

“Gentlemen,” a male voice said sharply, coming from behind Max.

In front of Max, Lane stopped, straightening up with a scowl. Max turned around sharply. A man in his fifties, wearing a crisp black suit with a tie the same shade of grey as his hair, stood in the doorway to the next room, to the left of the marble fireplace, with an expression of mild exasperation. 

As he stepped into the room, Max saw that he was followed by a girl – she looked to be about twenty or so, around Max’s own age. Her long black hair flowed loose over her shoulders – though as it caught the light Max saw it was not quite black – she had brown highlights which accentuated the natural waves. She was in a light grey, long-sleeved, form-fitting dress — something plain, but she wore it elegantly. As her dark-eyed gaze fell on Max and Lane, she moved past the old man and hurried over to Lane. Max was struck by the elegance of her movements, the poise with which she held herself. 

“Lane,” she exclaimed, her voice laced with concern. Producing a handkerchief from a concealed pocket, she dabbed at his face. 

“I’m fine, Ivanna,” Lane said, brushing her off, though he took the handkerchief, wiping the blood from his nose and lip.

So that’s Ivanna, Max thought. Curiously, he looked between her and the man in the suit. Both of them carried a certain air about them, not just in their clothes but in the way they behaved. Wealth, Max thought. Moreover, there was a resemblance. The man was regarding Ivanna and Lane with an inscrutable expression, but now he approached Max. She’s his daughter, Max realised, looking at him. The man’s eyes crinkled at the edges as he smiled.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he said. “I hope you’ll forgive the sudden introduction,”

“Who are you?” Max said. 

“Darren Clarke,” he said, affably. “I own this manor, and this is my daughter, Ivanna.”

Ivanna glanced at Max, her dark eyes appraising, and inclined her head slightly.

Max was about to say something, when a door to their right clicked open. A young man walked in: bronze-skinned with blonde, curly hair. He was wearing a purple hoodie and jeans. He stopped as he saw them, grey eyes flicking between each person. His gaze fell on Lane, still holding the bloody handkerchief to his nose, and for a moment his expression contorted in restrained emotion. Then he burst out laughing, a grin stretching broadly across his face. Lane looked furious.

This new arrival was promptly followed by another boy, in a navy t-shirt. He was leaner than his preceding companion and had lighter blonde hair — so light it was almost milky in contrast with his own tanned skin. He looked mildly bewildered at the sight of them all standing there, then shrugged and carried on into the room (leaving the first boy guffawing in the doorway), falling casually onto one of the green sofas, and looking rather aloof from the whole proceeding. 

“Max, meet Ruben,” Darren Clarke said, gesturing to the first boy, who was just recovering himself under Lane’s withering glare. “And this is Chris,” 

The boy on the sofa, Chris, raised a hand in a rather indifferent greeting. 

Max regarded both young men warily.

“Why did you bring me here?” He asked Ivanna’s father. 

Darren Clarke smiled thinly. “Are you familiar with The Other Place?” he asked, mildly. His peaceable tone didn’t stop Max’s head from spinning on hearing it mentioned a second time. The Other Place. It was strange to hear it spoken about by anyone other than himself and Keeper. After all, it had belonged to them. It was their game, when they were kids, or so he’d thought. 

Max remembered a summer-touched grassy field, where he’d been sitting, twelve-years-old, making whistles from the dry grass. He recalled the tell-tale whoosh of air compressing, and how he’d turned round to see his little sister standing behind him. 

“Where you been?” He’d asked, as he always did. On that occasion, Keeper’s light brown hair was braided, and she was wearing different clothes than the ones she had been wearing when he’d last seen her six days ago.

“The Other Place,” Keeper answered, as usual. Her cheeks were flushed and rosy, her green eyes bright. She crouched down in front of him, rocking on her heels, eager to tell him all the stories from the place that she went to often but he could never go to. 

“It’s just like our world,” she’d told him once. “There are people and buildings and stuff. But it’s slightly different.”

“How?” he’d asked, ardent for explanations of the wonder that even as a twelve-year-old he recognised in her nine-year old eyes. 

“It’s happier there,” Keeper had said, after a long pause. “I don’t know how else to explain it.”

The Other Place. He’d always imagined it as some idyllic world. Like our own, but brighter. 

“Why did you come back?” He’d asked her once, after she’d been gone for a week. Their mother had been angry that time, and after dark she’d crept into his room, and he’d shared his stash of biscuits as a substitute for her forfeited supper. He’d looked down into her childish face. “If it’s better there, why do you come back?” he’d said.

“Because I miss you!” she’d replied, as though it were obvious. “I’ll always come back eventually, I have to see my big brother at least some of the time,” 

As he’d grown older, Max had placed his memories of her stories about it on a shelf with the rest of his nostalgic childhood daydreams. In the early weeks and months after her actual disappearance, he’d held onto that memory with a fervent hope. But like all the rest of his hopes, he’d dropped it eventually, putting it down to Keeper’s imaginings. But now, this old man spoke about it like it was real. 

“Max?” Darren Clarke was looking at him expectantly.

How the hell did he know? Max bit his tongue, and said nothing. 

Noticing his discomfort, Ivanna left Lane’s side. 

“We’re sorry to have bring you here so unexpectedly,” she said, kindly, “But Keeper thinks that we might need your power,”

Max felt chills go down his spine. His fists clenched, and he dropped her gaze. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he muttered, his voice tight. “Keeper’s gone. I don’t have a power,” 

With his gaze fixed to the floor, he sensed both Ivanna and Darren frown. Ivanna spoke slowly. “Something hit The Other Place. Destroyed it. Keeper asked us to find you.”

Max paused, then shook his head resolutely. The Other Place was imaginary. Something Keeper made up. And in any case, she was gone. Nonetheless, his insides turned. The Other Place, destroyed? 

“So what?” he muttered, turning away.

“Whatever it is could hit our world too,” Darren said soberly.

Could?” he turned back to them, indignant, “Don’t tell me you brought me here just because something could happen,”

Ivanna’s frown deepened and her brow furrowed, a mirror image of her father’s expression. “If something out there is powerful enough to destroy The Other Place,” Ivanna said, “It’s imperative that we figure out what it is, in case it threatens our world too.”

“Why do you need me here?” he snapped.

“We don’t know how much time we have. The Other Place runs barely six months ahead of us – when Lane went there, it was already in ruins – that was three months ago. At best, we have barely three months to figure out what happened.”

He went to The Other Place? Max shot a glance at Lane, momentarily hesitant. 

“Is that what you’re all here for?” Max asked, and looked around at them.

Ivanna nodded. “You’ve seen what Lane can do,” she said. “Ruben can anticipate events. Chris has foresight.”

Max swallowed, eyeing the two young men uncertainly. Ruben had joined Chris, and perched nervously on the sofa, his eyes glued to Max, though Chris still looked disinterested. “You said Keeper was here?” he mumbled.

Ivanna nodded. 

His sister was alive. Max’s heart pounded. Not for the first time that afternoon, it was all getting to be too much. But it wasn’t possible. He couldn’t, wouldn’t let himself get his hopes up. Six years, he told himself firmly. Six years she’s been gone, why would it change now? And after all, what’s to stop her leaving again, even if she was alive, and back? Why did he even want to see her again? — she was the one who left him, after all. She’d abandoned him. And now he’d discovered that she’d not only returned, but she’d gone behind his back and told these people that he had a power.

His anger boiled over, inflamed by fear. Max shoved down the hope flowering in his chest, and turned on Ivanna furiously, “I can’t help you,” he said shortly, then headed for the door.

“You can’t just walk away from this, Max,” Ivanna said.

“Watch me,” he retorted, storming down the hall. 

“So what?” Lane’s voice cut across him reprovingly, “You’re just gonna let the whole planet die, without even trying?” 

“Not my responsibility,” Max snapped over his shoulder. “I’ll die with them.” Doubts seeded in his mind, at that last part, but he kept walking.

“Ah, but that’s not exactly true is it?” Lane said, as though he had read Max’s mind. 

Max stopped, breathing hard. How much do they know? How much did she tell them? 

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, his voice high. He could feel panic constricting his chest again. 

“Max, just hear us out,” Ivanna appealed. 

Max turned back to face them. Ivanna glanced nervously at her father. “How much did she tell you?” He snapped, fists clenched. He’d thought he was angry before, but now he was outraged. Keeper had told them? Lane raised his head, noticing Max’s change of tone, looking eager for a fight. Max had half a mind to give him one, regardless of the others present.

That’s when his sister’s voice reached his ears.

“Max?”

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