Chapter 1 - Titus Fogg

The alarm clock was on the ceiling…again.

          Titus glared at the small, rat-like creature holding the clock from the light fixture. It giggled evilly.

It's not going to— The creature launched the alarm clock at Titus. He rolled sideways off the bed just in time to avoid the flying timepiece.

          He sighed before reaching over and unplugging the device from the wall behind his bed. He didn't want to get out of bed—not that he had a choice. It was the third day in a row that he had nearly been clocked. At least this time, the hob waited until he was awake before throwing the alarm.

          He stood, stretching his ungainly body toward the ceiling. He didn't want to go to school, but he didn't have much of a choice there either. Going to school was what normal kids did, and he was normal.

          He reminded himself of this fact as he stepped over the circle drawn in thick chalk around his bed. It gave the slightest resistance as he crossed, like stepping through a wave of static electricity. A protection circle seemed a bit strange in a bedroom, but without it, for all Titus knew, he would have woken up on the ceiling instead of his alarm clock.

          His room was a mess. He gave up on cleaning after the first week in the old mansion. No matter how clean he got it, the hobs destroyed it the second he left. He guessed, on some level, it looked like a normal teenage boy's room.They had messy rooms, didn’t they?

          Most normal boys probably had clothes scattered from their closets, like a giant mouth had belched them out, thrown from their proper place into piles on the floor.

          His walls were sparsely decorated, for a teenager’s, though in his defense, he had only had a few months to try to figure out what he liked. Posters from his favorite show still hung where they had the night before. Titus figured that was a plus. Though he wasn’t sure how long they would stay after the hobs found out their favorite character died.

          His beanbag chair was in the opposite corner from the night before, but at least it wasn't cracked like the wooden chair he had had before; that was now being used as firewood. Amorphous furniture lasted longer than traditional furniture did, he realized.

          Next to the beanbag was his bedside table, which wasn't by his bedside. Instead, it was upside down next to his desk.

          Because, that's where it belongs, apparently, he reasoned as he grabbed a pair of jeans and a T-shirt with a Nintendo controller design on it.

          Currently, the bed was the only thing that remained unmoved, thanks, in no small part, to the chalk barrier around it. The flawless chalk circle extended partially up the wall. It had been hard to draw because of the difficulty of the ninety-degree angles. Ancient runes, strange symbols, and even some common numbers lined the interior and exterior of the circle. It was his only untouched haven in the room. His bedside table had been partially outside of the circle, and the hobs had been quick to relocate it.

          The gremlin-like hobs didn't particularly care for him. He made his way to the door warily, avoiding the tacks the hobs had left on the floor.

          Titus wondered if locks would be able to keep the hobs out of his desk. They had started using his school supplies as makeshift weapons. He decided they would change the locks on him. The hobs excelled with mechanical devices.

Maybe he would have to break down and chalk his desk as well. It would take a lot of work, so he tried to think of alternatives as he left the room, but none came to mind.

          The Fogg's estate contained a furnace, but Uncle Phineas was too old to ferry wood down to the basement, and Titus didn't trust the old house enough to go into its bowels on a regular basis, which left the place cold most mornings, especially in the fall and winter. Titus lucked out today—while the house was chilly, it wasn't freezing.

          He walked down the hall, avoiding the semi-transparent shifting bodies of the Lesser Dresh, giant creatures as big as a house that drifted through different universes. They were transparent like panes of clouded glass. They couldn't feel him, but the sensation of passing through one of them had always disgusted Titus. It was similar to having a tingling you couldn't get to leave. Titus wondered what other universes this Dresh’s body was in.

          Titus entered the bathroom. He went to the tub and reached over the brass sides to the knob for hot water, held aloft by a set of pipes. He banged twice on the exposed brass piping. The shower sputtered, then started as he took off his pajamas.

          He turned on the overhead light. At first the light passed right through him, illuminating him normally, but leaving no shadow. But then, a crisp shadow grew out of the base of his feet until it almost mimicked his shape. His shadow held for a moment under the glare of the light, then stretched and grumbled.

          Great Old Ones, why do I have to wake up every morning and see you naked?” Titus's unwanted companion babbled.

Titus mumbled, “You’re welcome to leave if you can,” but it didn’t come out in English but one of the foreign languages Shade favored.

          Don't blame me, you're ugly, kid. I've seen some attractive people in my day, and you're definitely not one of them. I mean look at you… You're scrawny, bare bones, with freakishly big hands and feet for someone your age, I mean—

          Titus dipped his head under the water, drowning out the creature. He snapped his head back immediately. The water was freezing. He let out an involuntary gasp, as he was fully awake now. His heart hammered at the cold water dripped down his face and back.

          —like that blonde from the book store. I bet she—

          He didn't even want to try thinking about what Shade had been talking about.

          “Shut up, Shade, or I'll go find a flashlight and we’ll see whether your voice or the batteries run out first.”

          The noisy shadow didn't buy the bluff for a second. “You wouldn't. You're too obsessed with trying to blend in to let that happen.

          Titus wiped the water out of his eyes and looked at himself in the mirror. He refused to look himself in the eyes. Instead, he inspected the bags under his eyes, which were worse than normal. He brushed his short hair forward and straightened.

          Shade was right. Titus hated everything about Shade, but most of all, he hated when he was right. The shadow laughed deeply at the fact. Titus shook his head in frustration.

          After showering and changing his clothes, Titus exited the bathroom and headed downstairs.

          He stepped out of the way of a group of hobs meandering down the hall after their morning bath, scrap rags wrapped around their shoulders like old men at a gym. The hobs had decided the ornate bird feeder in the sprawling backyard was the perfect place for their morning bath. The fact that birds occasionally, stupidly, flew too close was simply a bonus. Bath and breakfast, I guess, Titus thought.

          The last hob in line stuck his tongue out between strangely human teeth and pulled down one eyelid, an expression it had gotten from watching one of Titus’s anime without permission. They were all thrilled to learn a new rude gesture. Titus pretended he didn't see it.           The last thing he needed was for them to get riled up.

          I don't know how you stand those vermin,” Shade said, his voice creeping more into Titus’s head than his ears. Only certain people could hear Shade, but it was always an odd hybrid of vocal and mental speech. “You really should take my advice: impale one of those little gnomes on a receipt spike and put it on your desk.

          “Yeah, ‘cause that wouldn't make them hate me more. Then instead of throwing my alarm clock at me in the morning, they'd throw hatchets.”

          Shade scoffed.

          It doesn't matter if they hate you. Those pests need to learn to fear you. Nothing says obey me like a hob on a pike.

          Somehow Titus doubted that.

          He descended the steps into the living room before hanging a right into the kitchen.

          “Good morning, sweetie,” an inhumanly cheery voice chimed as he entered.

          “Hey, champ, ready for your second day of school?”

          Shade launched into another round of obnoxious laughter.

          Titus didn't respond, or even acknowledge the pair, as they buzzed around the kitchen. Oddly, in this case, he was being a normal teenager by ignoring his parents.

          Each showed a flawless smile as they shuffled kitchen items around on the counters. The entire image left Titus waiting for a photographer to jump out and yell 'Cheese!' and reveal they secretly lived in a Barbie commercial.

          Undeterred by Titus’s silence, the duo fired off a couple more overly enthusiastic questions.

          I can't believe how bad a job you did with these things,” Shade said between laughs. Shade always found the duo funny. “I think they are the creepiest thing in the house, your uncle included.

          Shade didn't like Uncle Phineas, and Uncle Phineas didn't like Shade, which made things uncomfortable pretty often. Sometimes Titus wondered if his uncle hated him because of Shade. He tried to tell himself that it wasn't true. Sometimes his uncle's condition acted up, making him irritable, but sometimes, Titus wondered if that was, in fact, the case.

          He got a bowl and poured himself some cereal—no milk—and ate quickly before putting the bowl in the sink and leaving. He didn’t say a word as he left.

          “See you later, sport,” the man chimed in a happy, but hollow, voice before continuing his conversation with the appliances. This sent Shade into another round of laughter.

 

Kids filled the high school parking lot. Titus had always wanted to be a normal, and here were hundreds of normal kids all around him. It was like dreaming of going to another country your entire life and finally going.

          At first, Titus didn't know what to do. He reminded himself he was just another student. He tried to study every minute mannerism and action in order to blend in as best he could. For the sake of his sanity, he convinced himself nobody paid any attention to him. He imagined that he belonged. All he had to do was act like it was true.

          Titus joined the comatose flow of students to the large brick building on the far side of the parking lot.

Arkham High School looked like it was the product of continued expansions to an older existing structure. Titus wasn't fond of old buildings, especially given the estate where he lived. Old buildings tended to have old baggage with them—unfriendly baggage, usually.

          Not ghosts, like most people thought, but plenty of other creatures that would like people to believe they were only ghosts; ghosts were harmless. Some abominations liked the old places but hated the new people—creatures like hobs, which, thankfully, there were none of at the school.

          Near the center of the building was the engraved date 1822. This portion of the building was the oldest. The new renovations spread out from this point.

          Before Titus could stop it, his mind broke down all the number combinations of the date. 1, 2, 911, and 1822 were the denominators of 1822. When added together, the digits equaled 13. His mind halted. There were no more computations to run. Thirteen was a prime number, one and itself, weird, or lucky.

          The mass of students condensed through the entrance before dispersing into the school's four wings. Each wing looped back on itself like a clover. He headed to his locker, located near the hub of the first wing. He didn’t have to walk very far to get to it from the entrance of the school. He had to walk much farther to his homeroom, which was at the end of the opposite wing.

          Titus entered his combination into the locker before his mind could take over dissecting the digits of the combination. There were three sets of two digits, more than enough possible combinations and derivatives to keep him busy for hours.

          A girl stepped next to Titus, rudely shoving him to make room for her and her bag. Titus didn’t recognize the girl, not that he recognized most people. He had a hard time remembering simple things, like names, for some reason. If it had sixteen syllables and could barely be pronounced, he had no trouble, but people’s names disappeared into his mind like bugs through a screen. Strange.

          Two other girls sidled up next to her and chatted as she put stuff in her locker.

          Wow, they sure grow them nice here,” Shade said, ogling the three girls. Titus dropped his bag in his locker and checked on Shade, who was shifting himself up the rude girl's body, stopping below her skirt.

          Oh, wow, check out her panties!” Titus wished Shade was corporeal so he could hit him. “Man, do you know the things I would do to this girl?

          “Get laughed at for lacking any anatomy that they would be able to see?” Titus whispered into his locker. Shade cocked his head angrily at the comment.

          Hey, kid, check this out.

          Titus closed his locker and looked at the girl's legs in annoyance. Mistake. Big mistake. He realized this seconds after Shade started laughing and the girl caught him looking.

          “Something I can help you with?” she exclaimed, louder than necessary. His eyes shot up to her face. The girl looked ready to slap him.

          Blend in, his mind said, skipping fighting and going directly into flight mode.

          Hob on a pike,” Shade said, although Titus wasn’t sure how that applied to the current situation.

          “Something I can help you with, loser?” she repeated.

          Shade offered a few unrepeatable things he could help her with, several of them requiring ninety degree angles where right angles didn’t exist in three-dimensions. Shade’s perverted ramblings drove Titus crazy, especially when they didn’t even make sense.

          What I call the fifth-dimensional-O,” Shade said. .

          Jeez, Shade, would you just shut up? Titus rolled his eyes. He couldn't handle Shade today. Titus was pretty sure Shade had been excited to get out of the house and see new places and people, but that hadn't stopped him from being as offensive as possible. Titus hoped he would have been calmer today.

          A hiss rose from one of the lackeys behind the alpha girl.

          “That’s him,” she whispered, loud enough for everyone to hear. “That’s the kid Jeremy was talking about, the insane kid.”

          “I heard he killed someone,” the other girl whispered, again, loud enough to create a stir among the other students in the hallway. He became the center of a widening circle of people.

          The lead girl smiled at the reaction of the other students, basking in the drama her followers were creating.

          “Ew, I touched his arm on accident. What if his crazy is contagious?” she asked, making a big show of pointing to her arm. The three girls shared a laugh that quickly spread to the other students.

          Titus wanted to leave. He wanted to disappear back into the crowd. His face burned and bitterness moved his lips.

          “I wouldn’t worry about it; dogs can’t catch human diseases,” he spit out angrily.

          He turned without waiting for the insult to register. An “ow,” ran through the crowd, but Titus was already weaving through the hall’s traffic.

          Man, you should see the glare on her face.” That was one thing Titus was pretty certain he didn’t want to see.

          When he reached the door to his class, he stopped. He felt anxious, a bad omen—not that he believed in omens.

          You just have to walk in there. Titus took a deep breath and let it out silently. His hands shook, so he stuffed them into his pocket and entered.

          A group of three boys on the far side of the class became quiet as they watched him enter. He eyed them suspiciously before assessing the rest of the room.

          Close to half the class was still absent. The present students stood scattered in groups chatting. Occasionally, social butterflies fluttered from one group to the other, but most of the students seemed content where they were. Titus decided it was a good idea to find his seat and disappear as best he could with the camouflage it offered.

          It didn't take him long to find it. His desk was the only one with a name tag that had his name scribbled out, and phrases like “Loon” and “You MAD, bro?” written in fresh marker on the desktop. Someone had even written, “kill yourself,” in pencil in the corner.

          Wow, looks like they got you pegged to a T,” said Shade.

          Titus sighed. Yeah, it was going to be one of those years, he thought.

© 2018 by Aaron piper

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