Halo: The Unchained

Going to summer camp is just about the worst decision Ryan Winters has ever made. Spending three months with a bunch of idiots who think "tru dat" is correct grammar is certainly not his idea of a good time. But, according to his adoptive mother, he isn't good enough at pretending to not be a mutant. So, off to summer camp, trying to spend more time with the human persons so he can learn how to be a human person. There is only one problem:
Ryan isn't who he says he is.
In a desperate attempt to keep his past hidden, Ryan tries to navigate life at the campsite while drawing as little attention as possible. But, when an unlikely person discovers the truth, Ryan is forced to choose between the fate of the world and the life he has always wanted to live. Now, Ryan has never thought of himself as the type to help people.
Little did Ryan know, all it would take was an interdimensional messenger, his ex-best-friend, and a giant robot from hell to prove him very, very wrong.


4. A Little Scare Never Hurt Anyone

A Little Scare Never Hurt Anyone

The campsite went black as a gust of wind blew out the only source of light— the fire.  A few people screamed, and there was a brief moment of panic where everyone clung to their friends for protection.  Sparks flicked in the air with silent ferocity as someone fumbled with a lighter they weren’t supposed to have.  Finally, the campfire was relit, and a calm rushed through the air.

Everyone was accounted for.  Everyone, of course, except me.  “Where’s Ryan?”  Gigi’s frightened voice made me feel a little guilty.  I never meant to frighten her, but it was too funny to watch the jocks flop around like fish out of water as they searched for me. Besides, it was Josh’s fault for challenging me in the first place.

“Oh shit. Ryan?” Josh cupped his hands around his mouth to project his voice more as he called out for me. Did I detect a hint of fear in his eyes? Oh, that was rich! I thought he stopped caring about me when he started using me as a pawn in his little “let’s trick the parents and pretend I’m studying with Ryan instead of at football practice” game.

Sadly, all good things come to an end.  I couldn’t stay tucked under the comfort of the bushes for very long.  When I couldn’t contain my laughter anymore, I pushed through the bushes, letting the little girl in the woods fade away.  “Oh, come on, I can’t believe you guys fell for that!”  Unfortunately, no one shared my amusement.

“You bastard!  What the hell is wrong with you, dude?!”  Coming from Josh, I wasn’t surprised by the vulgarity.  I wasn’t there to get all snuggly and warm with people.  Especially not Josh.  Besides, the more people hated me, the better.  Although the little stunt did earn me another punch in the shoulder.  I swore I could feel a bruise forming.  

“I thought you guys said you could handle it.”  Of course, that got no response.  I glanced at Gigi.  She glared at me for a moment before turning her head in a huff.  I admit, I deserved that, but it still hurt.

“How did you do that, man?” One of Josh’s friends asked, wide eyed and still pale faced.

Oh, shit. I probably should have thought of a reason before letting a ghost blow out a campfire for me. I shrugged, quickly, running my fingers through my hair nonchalantly. “I’m a man of many talents.”

“Someone tell a happy story!”  A brunette sitting on the other side of the campfire pouted as she held tightly onto her friend.  I recognized that insufferably squeaky voice in an instant. Bell, captain of the soccer team. Not a surprise. She was known for being rather whiney off the field. Still, I was kind of thankful that she was successfully able to steer the conversation away from how I could have pulled off that brilliantly executed prank.

Josh flashed her a grin as if he could throw glitter in the air and carry her off into the sunset like some Prince Charming.  “I will if that would make you happy.”  Gross.  And he called me lame?  Yikes. It wasn’t like he was looking to cuddle up with her under the sheets. He was just doing it to be cute— and to fit in with a crowd he tried way too hard to be a part of.

And with a wink, Josh launched into a detailed story about his latest achievement in football.  Of course, as soon as he got the chance to steal the spotlight from me, he was willing to take his turn.  All eyes were on him, and once again I had been outshined.  Even Gigi seemed more interested in his story than mine.  I scoffed at them in annoyance, which earned me several glares, as well as the bird from Mr. Star Football Player himself.

The stories continued, though none were important enough to catch my attention.  Most of the others told stories about things they read, or shopping for homecoming dresses, or their big tournament.  The weird Goth kid I was sharing a bunk with didn’t say a word, so we just skipped him, and the leading member of the Goth-Squad, October, told a chainsaw massacre story that got him sent to the counselors, where he was then scolded for having that lighter.  And they thought my story was weird. Although, I did have to give the guy some credit. He was just about the only person— other than me, of course— who had the balls to come up with something that was actually original(ish).

Thirty minutes to curfew, and silence filled the air.  There was nothing else to talk about.  No more stories to listen to.  Hell, even the counselors who had been breathing down our necks to make sure no more emotionally scarring stories were told had left out of pure boredom.  That was when they decided that the next best thing to a campfire story, was the topic that sat at every dinner table across the nation: The disappearance of little Jared Hall.

It was Mr. Popular Extraordinaire that brought it upon himself to bring it up.  “Well, despite Ryan’s story, I heard on the news that they are actually getting close to finding Jared Hall, alive.”  I knew I was going to regret mentioning Jared in my story.  The infamous Hall Kidnapping was the talk of the country.  It had it all— drama, suspense, mystery, a little boy in distress.  Americans were like vultures feeding off the flair of it all, while simultaneously thanking the stars that it wasn’t their little boy that was taken. But that was all just flair— not that they were interested in the truth anyway.

To my dismay, the conversation topic caught on quite quickly.

“I mean, I really can’t believe it’s still the top story.”  Josh continued.  I can’t believe you watch the news.  “It’s been ten years.  It’s kind of amazing that people still listen to that crap.”

“You listened to it.”  I couldn’t help but let that one slip out— even though I was ignored.  Not surprising.  It was probably for the best.  I mean, how would everyone react if they knew the Jared Hall had been attending school with them the whole time?  That was one question I didn’t want to be answered.

“I heard about that!  That’s the one about the little boy who was abducted from his home, right?  Poor little guy…  He was taken from his own bedroom.”  Little guy? Chill, people, it’s been ten years.  Jared isn’t seven, he’s seventeen.  Not little. Well, maybe little in comparison to Josh, but hey, there was still time.

“Not this case again.”  October contributed by rolling his eyes, taking a seat around the fire after returning from his verbal beating at the councilor’s office.  “Like Josh said, it’s been ten years.  The only reason this case is going nowhere is that people are still looking for a kid when they should be looking for a body.  They are way too optimistic about this one if you ask me.  Most abducted children are killed within the first 24 hours of being kidnapped.”  Finally, an idea I could get behind.  That was exactly the kind of thing I needed people to eat up. It was a lot easier to hide if people thought you were dead.

“Oh, don’t say that J—” October drilled into Josh with murderous eyes for almost using his birth name.  That was a dangerous business.  I heard that the last guy who called him by his birth name wound up in the hospital for at least three months.  Josh cleared his throat.  Wow. So, there was one person who could make Josh quiver with fear using pure intimidation. Impressive. “O-October… My point is, they haven’t found any evidence to suggest that the kid was killed.”  Yeah, because they don’t know where to look.  Honestly, the evidence has probably rotted by now.  And I spent so much valuable time planting that stuff…

Hell, I tried many times to try and get people to think Jared was long gone.  I couldn’t bear to hear about it anymore.  Luckily for me, the case was going nowhere— but that was only because of people’s inability to pay attention to the hard facts.  They just wanted to listen to the sweet crumbs of white lies that the media kept selling.  Then again, that was dangerous, too.  If people used their brains, maybe they would figure out that I was hiding from them.

Of course, no one would dare think about why a seven-year-old would want to run away from home.

I had to put an end to the topic quickly.  I couldn’t let the wheels in their heads start to turn.  “I’m going to have to agree with October.  It’s been a long time.  I honestly doubt the kidnapper would have kept him alive for ten years.  That’s way too much commitment.  I say the guy killed Jared as soon as he got him, and dumped the body.”  

“Oh, think about it, Ryan.  There was never any ransom, and the Halls are like the wealthiest people in the world! Not to mention, Jared was a public face. Anyone who hadn’t heard of the Halls has at least seen the Little Angels Clothing advertisement. There’s no way the kidnapper was stupid enough to take him just to kill him. What’s the point of that?” Ok, it was official. I really hated Josh.

“Yeah, what if he was never taken at all?  What if he left?  Like, he ran away?”  Bell’s voice stunned everyone.  She had a reputation for being quite the airhead— and that was a reputation I was hoping she would live up to.  Actually, considering most of the people there were practically flunking out of the 11th grade, it was a reputation I was hoping they would all live up to.

“Actually, you have a point. They might have been wrong all along!”  Of course, Josh would be the one to hop on Bell’s bandwagon. He was too stupid to form an opinion of his own. That, and he would probably say anything as long as it was the opposite of what I said. But, seriously, just how stupid was I? Why did I bring the case up at all? “There’s no evidence that proves it’s a kidnapping.  I mean, I heard that kid’s a freak.  Maybe he did run ‘cuz he couldn’t handle all that freaky power stuff.”  Freaky power stuff? I can handle my “freaky power stuff” just fine, thank you very much.

“Yeah I heard that too!  Couldn’t he, like, breath underwater or something?”  Breathe under… So now I’m a fish?

“No, no, no, he can read minds!  I definitely heard that on the radio!”  I bet you’re thinking that you sound pretty silly right now, talking about mind-readers and gill people, aren’t you?

“I heard his eyes look into your soul, so he knows all your secrets!”  I’m pretty sure mindreading has the same effect. People really would believe anything. There’s not a single known mutant who can actually read minds. You have to go to comic books for that nonsense.

“No, it was wings!  He was born with golden wings, like the sun!” Josh shouted over the voice of the five-other people who wanted to share their nonsensical ideas. To be far, he was the closest one so far. But, golden?  I don’t think so.  I would cut them off myself if they were golden. I mean, it’s so cliché. Not that white is any better…

“No, it was a tail.  Like a cat.” Another football player snapped, practically cutting Josh off in the process. Ok, now they were just being ridiculous.

“No, you’re thinking of Cataclysm from New York. Jared has claws.  It was definitely claws like a cat.”  What am I, a circus act? How many lies were they going to come up with? All that cat mutant stuff was Cataclysm’s business, not mine. If he wanted to put on spandex and show off his mutations to the world in the name of good or whatever, he could do that. But I would appreciate not getting crossed with him— or any of them, for that matter.

“You’re still thinking of Cataclysm, dumb ass. Josh is obviously right. Have you even seen a Little Angles add? It’s called ‘Little Angels’ because Jared is literally an angel.” Josh’s second in command—Matt— slugged the shoulder of the guy who suggested that I actually had cat claws. Oh. So, that was a thing. Who knew?

“Step off! There are way too many creepy mutants around now to keep them all sorted! It’s not like I was the only one bringing up other mutants!” The guy shouted back, and the two almost got into a fistfight, but Josh pulled them off each other and proceeded to scold them.

The arguing continued until it devolved into everyone screaming over each other— while I watched the madness unfold with a smirk on my face.  It was so silly, considering they were arguing about a little boy with superpowers— who was neither little nor a superhero. I mean, I can see why most mutants default to the whole superhero thing. It’s not like they can hide what they are—not like I can. If I didn’t have large marks on my back where my wings folded under my skin, I would look like any regular human. Other mutants don’t get that lucky.

So they couldn’t really think that I had a tail and claws, right?  Isn’t that a hell of a lot expect out of one mutant?  Really, what would the media think up next?  Was I not already enough of a freak for them? I was already the little boy who was born with little white wings and the ability to communicate with the dead.

Well, I shouldn’t really call myself a boy.  Not in the human sense, at least.


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