Chapter 1


With his hands behind his head and eyes unfocused on the ceiling, Mr. Peters teetered on the hind legs of the heavy oak chair. He was oblivious to the mess that surrounded him. Yesterday’s art lesson had been a success, even though it looked like a paint store had exploded in the room. Each cluster of desks displayed colorful artwork, which would soon replace the students’ charcoal drawings that had decorated the walls for the last month.

A knock at the door startled Mr. Peters out of his daydream. He lost his balance and tumbled backward. The chair slammed onto the floor at the same time as his head hit a wooden bookshelf.

“Ow!” the teacher bellowed.

Wedged between the bookshelf and the seat of his chair, he felt like a helpless turtle.

“I am such a twit.”

A lopsided, backward somersault freed him from the predicament. Slowly, he rose to his feet. Mrs. Miller, the school secretary, stood in the doorway, cringing at what she had just witnessed.

“Sorry about that,” she said quietly. Her hand covered her smile, and she swayed uncomfortably at the door. “Are you okay?”

Mr. Peters smiled sheepishly and rubbed the back of his head. “What can I do for you, Mrs. Miller?” he inquired as he lifted the chair upright.

She tilted her head in the direction of the hallway and whispered, “Your new student is here, Mr. Peters.” Then in a louder voice, “Come on in, Dylan.”

Dylan stepped cautiously into the room. The first thing Mr. Peters noticed was his filthy appearance. His dusty blond hair was tangled, and he wore a soiled red jacket that hung down to his knees. Mr. Peters did not know his age, but he guessed that he was older than his other students.

“Good morning, Dylan. How are you?”

Mr. Peters smiled as he walked over to the disheveled boy, whose sloping shoulders lifted slightly and darting, blue eyes connected with his eyes in the form of a greeting. He extended his hand, and Dylan shook it tentatively. An invisible cloud of stale cigarette smoke followed the boy into the room.

“I’ve heard a lot about you. I’m happy you’re joining our class.”

Dylan smiled nervously, but his focus quickly shifted from Mr. Peters to the floor, then to the wall, and finally rested upon his new teacher’s desk.

“What’s that?” Dylan pointed to a plastic figurine.

“I confiscated that from one of my students. I think it’s a samurai warrior.”

“Why do you have it?”

“Sam was playing with it during math class,” Mr. Peters answered.

“Will he get it back?”

“Eventually.”

“Why did he bring it to school?”

“Sam said he needs it for protection.”

“What protects him now?”

“Uh . . . nothing. He doesn’t need protection.” Mr. Peters nodded a thank-you to Mrs. Miller as she turned to leave. “Your desk is over here, Dylan. Would you like me to help you unpack your school supplies?”

“Yeah . . . I guess,” Dylan said softly.

He shoved his hands into his pockets, rounded his shoulders, and followed Mr. Peters. Dylan unzipped his backpack and started pulling out school supplies, toys, and small, unidentifiable objects.

He was cramming everything into the desk when Mr. Peters said, “Can you take some of these things home, Dylan? Your desk is too small to house everything you have in your bag.”

“Yeah . . . I guess.”

Mr. Peters continued, “You’ll like it here, Dylan. The students in our class are very nice. Would you like to make some new friends?”

“Yeah.”

Dylan bent over to pull a binder out of his backpack, and a medallion on a tattered, woven leather cord slipped out of his shirt as he straightened up. Mr. Peters was immediately drawn to it. The dull, brass medallion displayed two rounded blades framing a large, central sword—all three weapons shared the same handle.

“Where did you get that charm, Dylan? It’s beautiful . . . and ominous! I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Dylan straightened up, and his piercing blue eyes connected with Mr. Peters’s. “I won it, and it’s a medal—not a charm!” he asserted indignantly.
Mr. Peters was taken aback by the boy’s sudden display of confidence. Dylan was instantly taller and broader.

“Where would you win something like that?”

Dylan paused. “I defeated the horrible Tracker, and I took it from him when I crushed his skull and cut off his head.”

Mr. Peters stared at the boy, uncertain of how to respond. An uncomfortable smile appeared on the teacher’s face.

“Oh . . . well . . . uh . . .”

An announcement came over the intercom. “Mr. Peters, you have a call on line one. Mr. Peters, line one.”

“Uh . . . I . . . uh . . . I have to take that.” Mr. Peters pointed to the door and walked in the direction of his finger. “Make yourself comfortable, Dylan. I’ll be back . . . I’ll be back in a minute.”

 

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