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Hacktreks Travel

Hacktreks 2

First Chapters


Ben Henry

"Help us."
Natalie felt her body jump as she heard these words. They echoed around her head. She could feel the duvet cover wrapped around her. She was about to wake up. But she couldn't open her eyes.

With a determined expression on her aged face, Eleanor waited for the distorted image in the pool to focus. Her lips separated in silent disbelief as the dream became clear. She leant closer to the small stone pool that she knelt before, and ragged strands of grey hair fell down the sides of her face. The lock had been broken.
The heavy silence that had hung amid the vapours rising from the pool was then ended as sound echoed from the depths of the vision. Voices confirmed Eleanor's most troubled thoughts. Voices that hid the sound of footsteps crossing the cracked stone floor.
Within seconds, the image became hazy, and the dream was lost. But Eleanor had seen all that she needed. As had the man who now stood behind her.
"Well then…" A voice whispered barely audibly. With striking agility that defied her age, Eleanor leapt to her feet and faced the man. In perfectly steady hands, she clutched a beautifully crafted, pearl-white sword. The elderly woman pointed the flawlessly sharp point of the blade out before her. The man was unafraid.
"Seen something that interests you?" He asked politely, with a face devoid of any emotion.
The shocked eyes in Eleanor's wrinkled face narrowed in bitter anger.
"Only what I already presumed." She answered calmly. "That my task is not yet complete."
Fearlessly, the woman took a step closer, pressing the tip of the sword lightly against the robes covering the man's heart. "Though it soon will be!" she uttered.

The man did not move a muscle. His cold eyes were locked with the fiery glare of the senior woman. Keeping the tip of the sword pressed firmly against her enemy's chest, Eleanor suddenly found the man's calmness unnerving. Her weapon was not inducing the fear it deserved.
"You have your father's arrogance, yet lack his sense." The woman said as she buried her fear. He would not see her confidence waver. "Do you not recognise the sword that ended him?"
She looked from the man's unresponsive face to the tip of the gently curved blade that now pierced his robes. "A life in the shadows; I knew you were a coward. But a fool? Zene will never fear a fool."
A look of contempt flickered across the man's face.
"Don't ever judge me." He whispered fiercely.
Eleanor lowered the sword and raised her head as she prepared to end her task. "Judge and be judged!"
In a sharp, swift movement, the blade was thrust deep into the man's chest. But the woman felt her confidence begin to melt as she awaited a scream that did not come. The man neither screamed, nor frowned. He smiled.
"Judge this."
Eleanor heard a cry from behind that shattered any confidence still within her. She felt a fear that snaked across every inch of her skin and buried itself within her stomach. Violently trembling fingers fell from the gleaming hilt of the sword.
The old woman turned her numb body to face what stood before her, and opened her mouth. But her heart had stopped before she even had a chance to scream.

Chapter One- 28 Days Later

Natalie looked out of the window and down at the street below. She looked at the other houses, and realised that her bedroom light was the only one still on. She wondered if she was the only person still awake in the whole street. Or in the whole city.
As clouds covered the moon, and cast the view into shadow, her eyes focused on her reflection in the glass. Her pale face looked even whiter when contrasted with her long dark hair. In fact, the only colour in her face were the pair of bloodshot eyes. She had told herself that funerals should be a celebration of the life. But that hadn't made it any easier.
Disappointed by her lack of strength, the girl closed the curtains to cover her reflection. She stepped over to her bed and crawled under the covers. At the age of seventeen, this was the first funeral she had ever been to. She had never lost anyone before, let alone somebody close to her. And she had been closer to nobody more than her grandmother.
The weariness of a long day finally caught up with her, and the girl began to drift off to sleep. Her mind swam with troubled thoughts and images.
"We knew she couldn't hold on much longer." The face said to Natalie's father. "She had been in that coma for a month."
The face smiled in a comforting manner. The father didn't.
A woman walked in. Natalie didn't recognise her. She wore a shawl and large sunglasses. She looked embarrassed, but why? What did she have to hide?
Natalie looked down at the small bear in her hands, and then up at the woman. Now that she had removed her sunglasses, her deep gray eyes could be seen. And though the face was smiling, the eyes looked scared. Natalie looked back down into the black beady eyes of the bear.
"She would have wanted you to have it." The woman said softly.

Natalie woke up. She pulled herself out of bed and walked over to the chair in the corner of the room. Underneath her black top, she found the bear. Aside from the thin blue ribbon knotted in a bow about its neck, the bear was rather plain. The black eyes were unscratched, and the brown fur soft and curled. The girl racked her brains as she tried to remember this bear from her grandmother's house, but could not. She thought it looked quite new, save for the ribbon. The blue material was crinkled and the ends were frayed. Natalie smiled. Her grandmother had always liked blue.
With the bear in her arms, she returned to her bed, and soon returned to slumber. As before, her dreams were filled with short, snappy images. Though, unlike before, there was a sharpness to them. A crisp sense of realism.

She stood in her grandmother's hallway. The light green carpet felt soft under her bare feet, and a chill breeze ran through her hair from the door behind her. The surroundings then blurred, and she felt herself drift toward the stairs. She went to walk up the stairs, but her feet wouldn't take her. She drifted on past the stairs and toward the kitchen. The door was closed, and she wondered what was behind it. But as she reached out her hand to open the door, the image shifted, and she stood before the door to the under-stairs cupboard. Her hand closed around the brass doorknob, which felt cold to the touch. She opened the door.

The image had again sharpened to a startling realism. She smelt the musky scent that came from the old coats hanging from a bar in the cupboard. She could see each and every cat hair clinging to the dusty green carpet; courtesy of the late tortoiseshell, Nibbles. Natalie remembered how her and her friends would play in the cupboard- seeing how many they could fit inside. Her grandmother never used to like them playing there. She didn't really know why.

The girl then spotted an old coat of hers, and went to pick it up. But before she had taken a look at the coat, she found herself pulling another from the bar. The image blurred, and she heard the soft rustle as she cast all the old coats from the cupboard. She pulled a box of old shoes from the back of the cupboard and threw it behind her. The image sharpened. The cupboard was bare.
With a feeling of confusion, Natalie went to leave for the kitchen. But when she turned around, she found herself facing the carpet on the cupboard floor. She reached out her hands, and pulled it up. Cat hair filled the air, and dust went up her nose. She sneezed, and the image blurred.

"Help us."
Natalie felt her body jump as she heard these words. They echoed around her head. She could feel the duvet cover wrapped around her. She was about to wake up. But she couldn't open her eyes.
The image sharpened. The dust had cleared, and she was facing the cupboard floor once again. Right in the very center was an old trap-door. The image blurred.
Natalie felt a cold stone floor under her feet, and an earthy smell filled her nostrils. The surroundings melted, and old candles span around in the darkness. The image sharpened and she could see each drip of wax hanging down their sides. The image blurred.
She felt herself gripping something in her hands. She looked down as the image sharpened and saw the white hilt of a sword in a black scabbard. She pulled at the sword. The image blurred.
The candles burst alight, and flames danced in the darkness. A small white stone began to glow. She could feel it close to her heart.

"Help us!"
As Natalie heard the cry she jolted back to consciousness. She was sure that the voice had come from just beside her. As she opened her eyes, she saw the hazy outline of a face lying right next to hers in the bed. Her eyes focused, and she let out a faint sigh of relief as she saw the black beady eyes that glistened in the moonlight. She turned from the bear, and soon drifted into a more peaceful sleep.

Natalie wiped her morning eyes as she walked from her bedroom toward the stairs. As she passed her father's room, she was surprised to see the door open so early in the day. She peered in to see that the room was empty and the bed was made. Either he had got up early with the energy to make his bed, or he had slept elsewhere last night. Natalie was sure that the latter was more likely.
The girl slumped down the stairs and plodded along the hallway. Before she turned into the kitchen, something caught her eye. She looked back into the lounge to see her father dozing in a chair with the TV remote resting on his thigh. On the floor the girl could see a youthful picture of her grandmother. She walked over and picked it up.
"God she looked like you."
Natalie was startled to hear her father's croaky voice. He rubbed his tired head and looked up at her. The man's chubby boyish face appeared quite sunken from a near-sleepless night. He had only been sixteen when Natalie was born, and certainly looked very young to have a seventeen year old daughter.
"How are you feeling?" Natalie asked with a soft smile.
"I'm fine." Her father replied with an unconvincing shrug. The girl eyed the half empty bottle of Jack Daniel's on the table next to his chair, and gave him a skeptical look.
"I'll be fine!" he said with a smile before looking at his watch. "You're up early. Makes a change."
"Yeah well I have college to go to." The girl replied as she picked up her father's smart jacket from the floor and hung it over a chair.
"You're going in?" The man said in confusion.
Natalie shrugged. "Better than moping around here all day. What are you doing?"
Her father sighed. "Well, I was planning on moping…"
Natalie smiled warmly. "You and Rick should go out and do something. The Peters' said they'd be free if you wanted to go over."
The man nodded thoughtfully. "How is Rick?"
"Still asleep. I doubt you'll see him before lunch! I gotta get ready." The girl leant in and kissed her father on the forehead. She then turned to leave the room, but saw him reach out for the bottle of Jack Daniel's. She leant in and grabbed it before he could, shooting him a warning look.
"Alright!" the man said, raising his hands. Natalie wore a mock-watchful frown as she left the room with the bottle.

The girl parked her Ford Ka in the college car park and checked herself in the mirror. Her pretty face was shaped by the dark hair that fell to her shoulders. She would have looked even prettier if she had been smiling.
She got out of the car, and look around her at the mass of students leading up to the college. In spite of how early it was on this Wednesday morning, everybody looked happy. She saw the smiles on the faces of friends and couples, and wondered why. How could everybody be so happy, so perfectly unaware of the death of her grandmother? How could her world be so disrupted without it affecting anybody else in any way whatsoever? A pang of anger shot through the girl as she thought; if her grandmother had have been a celebrity they would know. But to every smiling face that she could she, her grandmother had been a nobody.

For the first two hours of the morning the girl had Biology, and for some reason she thought learning about homeostasis in the body wasn't quite as interesting as it might have been.
"And therefore, when the blood glucose level falls below normal, glycogen is converted into glucose." Mrs Reigner said in a painfully matter-of-fact way. She was a very incompetent teacher, and not only did the students know this, but she knew that they knew this. She got around the problem by being as condescending as she possibly could.
"And where does this happen Miss…" She looked at the desk plan she had been using for the majority of the year, "
Some students in the back of the class sniggered. Natalie looked up from staring dazedly at her blank notepad.
"Arisol." She corrected. It hadn't been the first time that year.
"And the answer to my question?" Mrs Reigner asked with raised eyebrows.
Natalie knew that asking for the question again would be a death-wish, so instead she hazarded a guess.
"Enzymes?" the girl said with a quiet innocence. Nine out of ten biology questions seemed to have something to do with enzymes. The teacher frowned, and her bushy grey eyebrows formed one long hairy line above her eyes.
"No, Miss Arsol, glycolysis does not happen in enzymes." She said in a snappy, impatient manner. She looked down at Natalie, who looked back sheepishly with her tired eyes.
"And perhaps if students spent more time studying than drinking every night, they might actually pay attention to my classes. What was it last night, Natalie - pubbing? Clubbing?" she asked with a great dislike for the idea.
Natalie's sheepish expression faded from her face.
"I was at a funeral actually. But thanks for asking."
Mrs Reigner's eyebrows suddenly separated as her frown vanished. For a couple of seconds, the class was in perfect silence.
"Right, well…it happens in the liver…" And so the lesson went on. Fortunately, it was quite a while before the teacher asked Natalie a question again.

When the lesson was over, the girl headed toward the canteen to meet up with her best friend, Clare. As she walked down the corridor, she saw a face amid the crowd. The broad grin and gleaming eyes were too hard to resist. Natalie smiled.
"Howdy hey!" Will said enthusiastically before leaning in and kissing his girlfriend on the cheek. The boy had the build of a rugby player, yet a much younger looking face topped with wavy blonde hair.
"Hey," Natalie said with a smile, "what's up with you?"
"I got it!" the boy said, shaking his fist with excitement. "I'll be playing the role of Jason Tyler in the play!"
Natalie congratulated him and kissed him on the cheek, though she was sure he was looking around to see if anybody else had heard. Will's eyes then widened as he remembered something.
"Oh! How was the funeral?"
The smile somewhat sunk from Natalie's face. "Yeah, it was alright."
"Great!" the boy said, giving her a hug. "Hey, can I be cheeky?" he asked with a hand over his mouth and an anxious expression.
"You're always cheeky." Natalie joked.
"My Mum's seeing friends tonight, so…could I skank a lift?" the boy asked with begging eyes.
Natalie nodded, "Yeah, sure."
Will's smile broadened, "Wicked! I gotta phone home, I'll see you later!"

The pair briefly kissed and went on their way. Natalie reached the canteen, and fought her way through the masses toward the table near the back where her and Clare normally sat. Sure enough, Clare was sat down talking with two other girls. They all wore very serious expressions, and one girl was shaking her head. As Natalie reached the table, the girls looked up with beaming smiles, and two of them got up.
"See you at lunch!" A tall girl with ginger hair said to Clare. Clare nodded and the pair of girls smiled warmly at Natalie before leaving. She sat down.
"Heya." Natalie said with a forced smile. She could see the worry on her friend's face.
"You get my text?" Clare asked. The girl had a pretty face with big eyes that were startlingly blue, and short blonde hair tied back in a pony tail.
Natalie nodded, "Yeah, thanks. Sorry I didn't reply, I was-"
"Don't worry about it." Clare said hurriedly. "How was the funeral?"
Natalie opened her mouth to speak but didn't know quite what to say.
Clare smiled, "Sorry, stupid question…"
"No," Natalie shook her head, "no, it was fine. It was good. They played that song from Donnie Darko, you know…"
"Mad World?"
"Yeah. They played that near the end, it was one of her favourites, bless her. She would have liked it."
Clare wanted to ask how Natalie felt, but thought better of it.
"Well that's good. You wanna go out for a drink tonight?"
Natalie shook her head, "I think I'll stay in with Dad and Rick. Get out a movie or something."
Clare nodded. "Donnie Darko?" she suggested with a laugh. Natalie smiled. A very beautiful girl with wavy brown hair that flowed almost down to her waist stepped up to the table. She looked at Natalie with a caring expression and blinked her pretty green eyes.
"Hey Nat, I heard about your grandmother. Sucks, huh."
Avoiding the temptation to say 'Duh!', Natalie nodded at the girl with almost a startled expression. She had barely exchanged two words with Lissa since the start of the term.
Lissa leant forward and put her hand on Natalie's shoulder.
"Hey, I'm having a party this Saturday. You wanna come? You know, drown your sorrows and all that!" she said with a light chuckle.
"Well, yeah, I'll see what-"
"That is great!" Lissa said, beaming. "We have to catch up, we haven't spoken in ages! Well, I guess I'll see you Saturday! Bye Nat!" she said with a little wave. She glanced at Clare before turning around, "See ya Clare."
As Lissa strode off, Natalie looked at her friend with shock. "What was that about?"
Clare sighed in a care-free manner. "She's just stressing 'cause I got the part of Lorna in the play."
Natalie's eyes widened in disbelief.
Clare sat back, "No, no! I'm sure she would have invited you anyway!"
Natalie laughed, "You got the part! Why didn't you tell me?"
"Well, what with all the…stuff…" Clare replied, trying to stop the smile from spreading across her entire face.
"Don't be stupid!" Natalie said with a grin almost as big as her friend's. "That's just the cheering up I needed!"
"Well, if you have some nights off this week, I could really use some help with the lines…"
"Definitely! Tomorrow night?"
Clare clapped her hands excitedly. "It's a date!"
Natalie raised her eyebrows, "Hey, but if it's a love scene you won't have me playing your guy!"
Clare laughed and put on a mock-sad expression.
"Well, we'll see!" Natalie joked. "Blimey, my boyfriend and best friend as the stars of the play!"
"Will got the part?" Clare said excitedly.
Natalie shook her head, "I'm surprised he hasn't been announcing it with a loudspeaker!"
"So he's playing Jason?" Clare asked.
"Yeah, that's the one." The girl then raised her eyebrows and wore a cheeky smile, "So he'll be your lurve interest!"
Clare looked embarrassed and shook her head. "Come on, I'm starving! Let's eat!"

© Ben Henry Nov 2003

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