It was a cold morning. The pickup keys were in the ignition and Daren tossed his bag in the back. He slipped into the driver’s seat and turned the keys. The truck didn’t start. It made a clicking noise and Daren hit his head against the top of the steering wheel in exasperation. “I guess I’m walking today.”
He got out of the pickup and pulled his bag from the bed. He walked to the street and looked up and down before he started to cross. As he did so he saw the school bus coming. “Sweet, the bus hasn’t gone by yet!”
The school bus pulled up, Woodfalls Oregon School District stood out in black text against the yellow of the paintjob. The bus driver slowed the bus and stopped in front of the driveway. He waved at Daren to cross.
Daren walked up the steps onto the bus and nodded at the driver.
“Truck won’t start?”
“Yeah, cold snap got the battery. I was lucky you hadn’t gone by yet.”
“I guess it’s a good thing I’m behind schedule today. Find a seat.”
Walking down the aisle Daren sat down in a group of empty benches and tried to avoid the stares. He had only ridden the bus a few times in the last two years. He was glad he was the last stop on the route. As the thought of him being the last stop passed through his mind the bus stopped at the bottom of the hill and three students boarded.
Daren looked over at one of the other students on the bus who was staring at his phone. “Who’re they?”
“I don’t know, they’re new. It’s the first time the bus stopped here.” The student never looked up from his phone.
The three students filed back to where Daren was and sat in the empty seats. They all looked like seniors or juniors.
“Hello,” Daren said, “I’m Daren.”
The two boys muttered their hellos but didn’t offer their names. The girl didn’t even say hello. The rest of the bus ride to the high school was uneventful.
Daren walked into his first period chemistry class. He shuffled by Mr. Hans and took his regular stool. He put his bag on the stool next to his and pulled out his textbook just as the tardy bell rang.
“Good morning class. We have a new student today.” Mr. Hans sounded excited if only to get the attention of his students. “Let’s welcome Ms…uh.” He looked down at his attendance sheet. “Ah, Ms. Sara Ainsley to our class.”
There was a half-hearted round of applause.
Mr. Hans nodded. “Yes, why don’t you introduce yourself?” He motioned Sara to step forward.
Sara was somewhat short for a senior and had dyed her waist length hair crimson. “You already know I’m Sara I guess. Uh, I’m from Hilsonville, Washington. It’s kinda in the middle of nowhere in northern Washington.”
“Yes, good. I usually ask favorite colors. My guess is red.”
“I have no idea what makes you think that.” Her voice was obvious sarcasm.
Mr. Hans ignored the sarcasm. “Well, let’s get you assigned a lab partner.” He looked down at his seating chart. “Mr. Medakus, I’m sorry but your solitude has ended.”
Daren sighed and pulled his bag off the stool next to him. As he did so he forgot it was open and all the contents went spilling onto the floor. He looked at the bag in surprise for a moment before he reacted and started picking things up. The first things he grabbed were the baggies of spiders and quickly shoved them in the bag before anyone could register what they were. Then he started grabbing the more mundane looking objects.
A hand reached down and started helping Daren pick up the contents of his bag. He looked up and saw Sara helping him. “Thanks.”
She picked up his grimoire and shoved it in the bag. “You should always grab your journal first.” She continued to help him clean up.
“Okay, now that we’ve cleaned up our messes we can get to work.” Mr. Hans booted up the projector and started the class.
During his third period PE class Daren noticed one of the other students who had gotten on the bus at the bottom of the hill. The PE teacher did a brief introduction.
“This is John Ainsley. He moved here from Hilsonville, Washington. Now, let’s get out of this gym and onto the track. I want to see some leg movement out there today!” Mrs. Carson looked ready to go. “I’ll be joining you on the track today. Anyone who can lap me gets extra credit.”
Daren jogged around the track, getting his heartbeat up, but not much more. He watched as John quickly lapped Mrs. Carson then when he came back around to Daren he slowed to his speed.
“I need all the extra credit I can get. Don’t you?” The question seemed rhetorical. He held out his hand. “I’m John Ainsley. You are?”
Daren jogged sideways to shake the hand. “I’m Daren Medakus. You seemed uninterested in my name this morning on the bus.”
“I’m not a morning person. Sara definitely isn’t either, but in-between classes she mentioned your journal, so I thought I’d introduce myself when I had a chance.” John slowed to a walk. “Let’s talk, shall we?”
Daren slowed and looked at him. “I don’t know why the two of you keep saying journal like that. What do you want to talk about?”
“Mendacium interius veritas. We Ainsley’s aren’t that kind of family, but we know a few.”
The phrase wasn’t quite pronounced right, and by John’s second sentence Daren knew why. “Well, just so we know where we stand, veritas interius mendacium.”
“Don’t they always, though?” John asked in a way that expected a specific response.
Daren shook his head. “Dad never told me the other half of that line. Said I wasn’t ready.”
A smiled appeared on John’s face. “Just answer it how you feel it should be answered, then. I want to know.”
“I’ve always thought the answer was ‘so is reality’.” Daren stopped in his tracks, an inquisitive look on his face.
John stopped and walked back to him. “What’s wrong?”
Shaking his head Daren started walking again. “Why am I so trusting of you? There’s students passing by us. Any one of them could know and be an enemy of the council. If we want to talk about this…”
The school bell chimed, interrupting Daren.
“We can talk this weekend at your place or ours. Let me know on the bus. I have need of your…skills.” John started walking toward the gym. “That is, if you are willing to help an old dog out.”
“I actually have a job after school. We should talk at lunch.”
At lunch Daren was reading his grimoire. He was sitting with his back to the lunchroom wall so that nobody could see the thaumatish written inside. The book was open to a section on supernatural dogs. Black dogs had always fascinated him, especially the church grim which seemed to be the only inherently good one. This time, however he was looking into humanoid creatures that were related in some form to dogs. John had said he had need of his skills if he wanted to help an old dog. That phrase is what caused him to investigate it now.
A lunch tray connected with the table Daren was at, causing him to look up over the lip of the grimoire.
“Is this seat taken?” The last one of the students that had gotten on the bus that morning was asking.
Daren noticed the two Ainsleys waiting beside him. “Ah, the last Ainsley I assume?”
“I’ll take that as a no.” The three Ainsleys sat down.
Putting the grimoire away Daren stared at his sack lunch. He didn’t feel hungry, but he started to eat mechanically. If he didn’t eat now he’d never make it through sixth period.
“So,” Daren asked between bites, “what do you want to talk about? Wolf related topics? Or perhaps the moon?”
John grinned. “See, Jayse? I told you that saying old dog was enough.”
The black-haired boy nodded. “I stand corrected. Nice to meet you, Daren. I’m Jayse.” He went back to shoving food in his mouth and swallowing without tasting it.
Sara shook her head. “Jayse, I know it’s hard for you, but you can at least pretend you’re actually eating.”
“You guys want to talk here, or somewhere else. I can make it hard for people to understand us if you want, but that doesn’t always work out.” Daren took another bite of his sandwich then added a blue and orange powder to his water bottle.
“If there’s somewhere else to talk that’d be best.”
“Okay, Jayse. Where do you recommend?”
“The forested area behind your house. After school.”
“Jayse, I told you Daren has work after school.” John took Jayse’s chocolate milk. “You won’t appreciate this. Why’d you even get chocolate?”
“Right. It’s getting a little hard for me to concentrate in here. I’m going for a walk.” Jayse gave his dessert to John and left with his lunch tray.
Sara shook her head. “Don’t worry about him. It’s a little too crowded in here is all.” She pushed her dessert over to Daren. “Do you want this?”
“Sure. So, we should talk this weekend then. Does that sound good?”
“It does, but it’s a full moon Saturday. How about Sunday?”
Daren looked at John. “You’re still tied down on that then? If you need my help with that I need to get to know you a little more. Now I know what you want, and that’s no small thing.”
“Well, up until now I didn’t care. Something’s come up, though, and I need to be a little more in control of some things.” “John, be careful. We can talk about that Sunday.” Sara picked up her food tray. “Well, see you then.”