Gasping, Jesse Valentine sat up. He was stiff and sticky with sweat, his mouth tasteless and dry like bunting. He trembled, placing his hands down on the white cotton sheet that covered his mattress. The feeling of it startled him and he looked down, his eyes searching for his down duvet. He realized he must have kicked it off in his frenzy and was proved right when he attempted to get off of his bed. His bare feet landed on the soft white material that was now pooled on the wooden floor of his new bedroom.
He turned his head to the side and eyed his alarm clock that glowed neon green in the early morning gloom, reading four forty two AM. He stood up, stretching his long body before walking into the shadows of his en-suite bathroom. He had to start at a new school in a couple of hours so he saw no reason to go back to bed. Not that he would be able to get back to sleep anyway.
His father had made them move again, and it had been his first night in the new house. One of the countless new houses he had had to experience in the last seven years.
Flicking on the light of the bathroom he turned to face the long frameless mirror suspended above the clean lines of the floating porcelain basin. He stared. But he wasn’t seeing himself in the reflection; instead he was mentally mulling over memories that plagued him like an infectious disease. He shook his head, more to remove them from his mind than anything else. Bending down he twisted the tap on and splashed the gushing cool water onto his feverish face.
Walking back into his bedroom he removed a few items of clothing from his wardrobe and began to change. He dressed in all black - an old t-shirt and faded loose jeans before attempting to tie up his hair. He could never get that part right, it was shoulder length, a lot longer than what the new school allowed without a pony tail and him tying it up only resulted in it falling out of the band.
He turned out of his bedroom, his bare feet padding softly on the wooden floor and down the cold glass stairs towards the kitchen, which seemed consistently and secretly fragranced by some exotic flower. He was sure that there was some built in air freshener hidden in the walls and that it sprayed the aroma every time the room was empty. He kept a wary eye on the walls in the hope he could one day catch it out.
Grabbing a black bowl from a cupboard he sniffed the space around him, listening for any mysterious ‘pishing’ sounds. His father had burnt their dinner the night before as per usual and the kitchen smelt exactly the same as when they had moved in. A few seconds later he decided that there was going to be no sign of the mystery being solved so he took a box of Coco Pops from the pantry and poured himself breakfast.
“Up so early?” A gruff voice asked, before coughing.
Jesse swallowed his mouthful of chocolate puffs. “Yeah, couldn’t sleep,” He answered. Licking his lips and ridding them of the taste of the milk flavoured by his cereal.
His dad nodded, ruffling his own dark shaggy hair with a tattooed arm and yawning. “I didn’t go to sleep.”
By the rough tone to his voice Jesse wasn’t surprised and even without it he still wouldn’t be, his dad painted non-stop. He locked himself in the basement were he painted for hours, sometimes even days because that was the prerequisite of every house- it had to have a basement with small windows on one side. Not that these houses were easy to find. South Africans had no need for basements. It was as if he ate, slept and breathed his art, an obsession that had started the day the trial ended, since the court acquitted him of his wife’s death.
“Have you been painting all this time?” Jesse asked, moving his cereal around the dark square like bowl with his spoon. It was one of those plastic spoons that changed colour with the temperature of the milk, the type you got as a surprise in cereal.
His father looked down at the spoon and grimaced, he had never liked it, his brown eyes sunken and his pupils small. “I have been learning secrets.” He replied, calmly crossing his elbows on the cement counter and leaning against it.
Jesse repressed a sigh. “And?”It’s not that he didn’t believe his dad. He had seen the paintings being painted with his own eyes. It’s just he wasn’t sure if they were really messages like his dad assumed they were.
His father closed his eyes. “Terrible things are about to happen Jesse, and I fear you are at the centre of it.”
When he opened them Jesse was pushing his half eaten cereal away from himself, and looking at his father with concern. He wasn’t alarmed about what he was saying about him, more the fact he was babbling again. It was the reason people wanted him put in an asylum or to “save” him as certain critics kept capitalizing in their hate mail – which somehow always found them no matter where they moved. Some artists had the average enthusiasts, and some had mad heretic stalkers.
“Dad-” Jesse began.
“Jesse, they are saying you will save us. You and the girl will save us, from ourselves.”
“What girl?” Jesse asked, startled. He hadn’t made friends in the last six years, let alone had a love interest.
Michael smiled; it was an unusual smile as if it were made up of exhilaration and despondency. “The scarlet girl, they say when you meet, it will start the beginning of the end.”
Jesse wanted now more than ever to groan at his father and walk away, but he knew from experience that he had to take him seriously. “We move all the time dad, how could I meet a girl?”
Michael threw his arms up defensively. “Hey kid. Don’t shoot the messenger.”
“Okay dad, tell me the message.”
“In due time my boy.”
This time Jesse did sigh. “Dad, just tell me.”
His father bit on his lip, shaking his head. “We have to keep moving, I can’t let you meet her Jesse. I can’t lose you!”
His father slammed his fist down on the granite counter and swore. Jesse stood up. Most people would be making assumptions on his father’s sanity and sobriety by now and wondering what to do with him while they called for help, but Jesse knew it was best to put him to bed and let him rest. It was worse when he painted without even a nap. His ramblings got more and more…dangerous. “Come on dad, you should get some sleep.”
His father attempted to move away from him but only succeeded in stumbling and knocking his thigh against the grey counter. Defeated he turned to his son. “Okay, but Jesse?”
“Yes dad?” he answered, grabbing hold of Michaels arm and placing it around his shoulders. They began to shuffle away from the kitchen towards his father’s bedroom which had been conveniently placed downstairs.
“Will you try this time, to make at least one friend?” Michael murmured groggily next to him.
“Sure, I can try, but I can’t promise you anything.”
“Just beware of any floozy girls.”
Jesse laughed. “Why is that?”
They were at his father’s bedroom door now, and Jesse kicked it open with his foot. A top interior designer decorated the house and it was so modern and well done that the door made virtually no sound as it slid d open. It was the perfect house for a teenager because of how easy it was to sneak out of. This of course was all wasted on Jesse, who preferred his own company to other human beings.
“That’s what a scarlet woman is,” Michael mumbled, tripping away from his son and over his feet. Jesse suppressed a laugh as he watched him do a strange type of zombie waddle towards the bed.
“I think there’s better a term for that nowadays dad.”
His father flopped down and slid on the sleek duvet of the master bed. His clothes and shoes still on from the day before covered in flaking dry paint. “Not any terms you could use without offending anyone,” He garbled, almost incoherently into his pillow.
“Okay dad, I’ll see you after school.” Jesse hesitated, wondering if he should take his father’s shoes off or put some ice on his hand.
That did it for him. His dad sounded as if he were on the verge of sleep and somewhere between the subconscious and the conscious world. Jesse left the room. Babying his dad was not going to help, what Michael needed now was rest. Lots of it.
Back in his own room Jesse picked his duvet up off the floor and threw it onto his bed. As it landed he heard a thump and turned to see a worn book with its spine up and its pages crushed at odd angles on the floor. The black book usually sat on his side table covered in a thick layer of dust.
Jesse swore, dropping to his knees and picking it up his fingers tracing the gold writing on the cover. The last time he had opened this book was when he was ten and he had placed a folded up newspaper article inside. He flipped through the pages taking care to smooth down the bent ones from the fall and then he found it. His heart jumping into his throat as he saw the yellowed paper pressed flat and folded into a perfect square.
It smelled of old ladies hat boxes and he unfolded it with shaking fingers. He began to read it, his eyes darting from side to side with the sad gleam of unshed tears. He knew no one would understand the Valentine’s, and he couldn’t care less. He had his father, and that was all that mattered- since he had lost everyone else.
The headline read:
Valentine trail abrupt end
For the bereaved family of Amber Valentine, formerly Borzal; today marks the end of a long and hard battle with the court. It has been many months since the fatal car accident that killed the famous artist Michael Valentine’s wife, and left his left side paralyzed. But today the trial continued, and came to an anticlimactic end with the case being thrown out with no one convicted.
Michael has one son, Jesse Valentine who has been left without a motherly figure after the brakes on their family Mercedes failed.
Indeed all eyes have been staring guiltily at Michael, suspected of cutting the brakes after discovering that his wife had refused to have any more chemotherapy.
No evidence however links Michael Valentine to Amber’s suspicious passing. In fact there seems to be no evidence or links to anyone else involved. The investigation in relation to this has ended, and the court has specified that Michael be acquitted, and Amber’s death be officially classified as an atrocious accident caused by faulty brakes.
Jesse sat back so that he was leaning against his side table, the newspaper article fluttering from his hand. After a moment of silent contemplation Jesse stood up, his expression stone. He picked up the article and put it inside the rugged book before placing it down in its place on his bedside table. He needed to get to school.
The High school was unlike any school Jesse had been to before. Set in an office park the student’s lounged about smoking cigarettes with colourful long hair. Some had piercings, some had tattoos, and some had more than enough of both. It was the type of school where a kid like Jesse should fit right in.
He sauntered in through the main gate and stopped, immediately regretting it. Everyone in the quad was staring at him. He was the new kid, the specimen to be ogled at once again.
He scowled pushing past a group of girls who all seemed to be trying to incorporate the eyes of a racoon into their daily lives and opened a door with a sign reading ‘Office’ printed in block letters.
The secretary looked up from a pile of paperwork and stared at him. She didn’t smile, her face remaining straight as a line drawn with a leveller, and a skilled architect, and it was just as dull.
“Hi, I’m Jesse Valentine.”
“Okay, here’s your timetable.” She moved the pile of papers aside and gave him a drab looking piece of black and white paper.
“Thanks,” Jesse muttered.
She nodded looking down at her paperwork again as if he had never been there.
He turned and walked out the door and into the murmur of students chatting before class began. He was annoyed by the secretary because he had been to schools a lot more helpful than this. If she didn’t want to help, he resigned to finding the class on his own. Fending for himself was not a new revelation to him.
“Hey, you’re new!” A girl with the pink and blue swirls of a candy cane streaking her blonde hair said, moving towards him and grinning.
“Ah yes, thanks for the observation,” Jesse replied, attempting to walk past her.
She raised her eyebrows. “Anytime, I am the queen of the obvious after all. So you need help.”
“No.” He eyed her out of the corner of his eye as she kept pace with him.
“I wasn’t asking, merely observing. I’m Jezebel, and you are?” She held out an arm covered in colourful stretchy bracelets.
“Jesse,” he said, ignoring her hand.
Instead of letting it drop and retreating like he wanted her to do, she grabbed his timetable from him and grinned. “Cool, so where’s your first class?”
Studying it she groaned dramatically. “Same as me, Afrikaans what a bore.”
She twisted quickly into a building painted persistently and tediously in pale robin’s egg blue, waving her hand for him to follow. Reluctantly he did. She was jabbering on about the school, and he zoned off. He had promised his dad he would try to make a friend, but if his friend had to be this girl he would lose his mind.
She got to a door at the end of a corridor and pushed it open. The class had already started and she grinned delightedly at the harried looking teacher.
“Mevrou Visser, Sorry I’m late-new kid” She pointed at Jesse over her shoulder, and moved to sit down at the back of the class.
The teacher who looked like a young version of Goldie Hawn minus the eighties hair exhaled loudly in exasperation. It looked like she had given up trying to control her student’s a long time ago.
“Have you forgotten what language we speak in this class meisie kind? Ons praat Afrikaans –“giving up she threw her hands in the air.
Jezebel grinned. “Nope, and I totally loathe you calling me a girl child, Mevrou.”
The teacher shook her head hopelessly, and eyed Jesse up. “Should I even attempt this language with you?” Her accent was thick, the type of thickness you only got from talking a different language to English excessively.
Jesse shook his head.
She rolled her eyes up to her classrooms yellow-white roof. “Of course I should have guessed. What’s your name?”
Jesse looked down at his shoes and scuffed his one toe with the other before answering quietly, “Jesse Valentine.”
The class went dead silent. It was worse than the sound of hearing a pin drop. This classroom was so noiseless you would probably miss the pin drop altogether. Then someone in the back called out, “That psycho painter’s son?”
“Yes, that psycho painter’s son,” Jesse scowled.
Mevrou Visser darted her eyes from her class, to Jesse, and back again, unsure of how to react or of how to calm her students down before a fight broke out. He could tell all this from her nervous posture and darting eyes -she really didn’t want to have to try and control a riot. She waved her arms at the students.
“Okay, Okay, Jesse you sit right there.” She smacked the desk that stood directly in front of hers and forced a smile. “And then we can begin the class.”
“But-” someone barked.
“We are going to begin this class now!” She exclaimed, brushing imaginary wrinkles out of her beige, linen pants.
After the lesson ended Jezebel was back at Jesse’s side so suddenly it was as if she had never left.
“So you’re the son of a famous guy.” She stated matter of factly.
“Jezebel, will you leave me alone? I didn’t ask for your help, and I didn’t ask for you to humiliate me in front of everyone. I came to this school because I had to that doesn’t mean I want you to be my friend or anyone for that matter. I am fine on my own, and I would appreciate it if you all shut up about my father.”
Jezebel’s dark brown eyes widened. “Well excuse me!” she yelled, waving her index finger around in front of her, “I was trying to be nice, but if all you can do is be a jerk then forget it, and your dad is crazy and so are you, you…freak!” She turned so violently that her pony flapped behind her like a crazed parakeet.
A petite girl with short brown hair met her as she was about to enter the school building. Her large green eyes widening as Jezebel shouted something at her before rushing off. The green eyed girl looked up at Jesse confused. As soon as their eyes connected Jesse felt a jolt. It was the kind of jolt that made you feel strange all over, and he couldn’t help getting feeling of déjà vu as if he recognized her from somewhere.
The girls gaze turned to intrigue as he turned away. He was livid; he had made more enemies than friends in one day than he had his whole life and now this, this girl had come and looked at him like that, which made him angrier with no idea why.
When the day finally ended Jesse was relieved to finally get some time alone to walk the short distance from the school to his house. He paged aimlessly through his sketchbook. Jesse loved to draw. That didn’t mean he was like his dad, he knew better than to attempt to make a career out of it. South African artists much like the rest of the world’s artists all began as nothing and stayed that way for most of their lives. His dad had been one of the lucky ones, using his talent to create a name for himself all over the world. No, Jesse drew for fun; it was his soul passion in life.
Slight footsteps on tar behind him interrupted his musings. He turned to look behind him before quickly turning back. It was the green eyed girl, her bobbed hair bouncing with her steps. She seemed oblivious to him, staring into the distance with pink hello kitty earphones in her ears. He wanted to scoff at them, to turn and say something to her, but he decided against it. Ignoring her and her stupid choice of earphones he sped his pace up. It looked like his peaceful commute home from school each day wasn’t going to be as peaceful as he would have liked, but at least this girl didn’t try and talk to him or even look his way.
When he got home his dad was watching TV in the lounge eating a bag of cheese and onion potato chips. The house reeked of them, but not for long if the mysterious air freshener had anything to do with it.
Michael grinned. “Son, so how was your first day?”
He shrugged .“Fine.”
“It will get better, it always does. You want to watch TV with me?” He scooted over to make space for Jesse on the expensive white sofa that was now besieged with chip crumbs.
No it doesn’t. “Not really, I’m kind of drained.” Jesse eyed the couch and wrinkled his nose. “You should open a window in here dad, it smells like feet.”
His father stood up his eyes still sunken and tired. “Another time. There’s something I have to show you.”
“Can it wait?” he asked, rubbing his forehead and feeling like if he did not get to his bed and flop onto it he would probably start screaming.
Michael shook his head. “It’s in the basement. Will you meet me down there?” His tone was serious.
Jesse frowned his father never let him in the basement. After Amber died, Michael had begun painting in the unlit cellar of Jesse’s childhood home, basically becoming a recluse. When Jesse tried to peep through the windows they were covered on the inside by canvas. Curiosity getting the best of his ten year old mind, he snuck down the stairs and into the darkness.
Leaning against an ugly pair of steel crutches was his father, sweat pouring down his hallow face. Jesse realized afterwards it was from the strain of trying to move around without his wheelchair but back then all he had seen was a zombie. He was staring at the canvasses lined up on the windowsill; his eyes were massive and bulbous and long tendrils of unwashed black hair hung listlessly in front of them. When Michael turned and reached out to him, he screamed trying to run back up the stairs before he was caught and forced to turn and look at the paintings.
Three of the five were coated in a very fine powder that created images of such irrepressible beauty Jesse forgot about screaming and his mouth fell open wide. The fourth had a mysterious silhouette shaped shadow behind it that was quickly being covered by soft pastel colours that seemed to be appearing out of nowhere. He stood in awe and watched as it was completed and then the fifth.
His crazed father turned to him, his body slumping down on his left side. “Jesse! They answered! They answered my plea’s! The spirits, the dead! They’ll control our destinies!”
He had never mentioned the experience again. He suspected his dad was so out of it back then he had forgotten it had even happened, but ever since a lock had been installed on every new basement.
Jesse opened the strong metal latch for the cellar door, and walked down the steps into the darkness bellow him. His dad was leaning against the far wall staring at the paintings covering the windows.
“Do you see it?” he asked.
Jesse stopped and squinted at the paintings. He couldn’t make out much, not in the darkness. “No, can I turn a light on?”
“What am I meant to be seeing then?”
“It is the sequence of events, and you’re in it. The end of the world is about to start Jesse. The phenomenon that is going to destroy the earth is religious conviction…”
This is my revised chapter one. I removed the majority of the back-story leaving only what I think I can get away with and I personally feel should be told at this point. Rules are meant to be broken right?
I was thinking of leaving out the newspaper article but when he goes to school the other kids know about it so I don’t want my reader to be out of the loop.
I was thinking of ending this chapter where Jesse’s dad get’s put to bed, but I feel it will be a very short chapter then.
Another bit of back-story I kept was his memory of the basement to explain that the paintings are not done by Michael but by the spirits.
I keep getting feedback that there needs to be more action to pull the reader in to the book, I’m not an action type of girl, intrigue is what keeps me reading, curiosity as to what could it all mean? But I want this to be perfect so if you feel I can improve it please specify how. Most of the action in this book is at the end so I am stumped as to how I can bring more to this chapter.