LEVEL 2 – 8
The whole situation was beyond unfair. Yet, Dylan remained sitting outside Bradley’s office at the YMCA in a cold metal chair next to Holly. Across from Dylan sat her step-brothers each wearing equal expressions of stupid, callous, and nervousness on their faces. Still in her swimsuit, and wrapped in her towel, a small puddle continued to form underneath Dylan’s chair thanks to her damp clothes.
It had been almost thirty minutes since her father entered Brad’s office. Sitting closest to the door, Dylan leaned in and listened. She couldn’t really hear anything, but any moment now, her dad would toss Councilor Brad through the cloudy glass office door like a rag doll. At least a girl could hope.
Matthew swung his legs back and forth in his seat. The feet of his chair squeaked against the floor matching his rhythm. His meek voice, not particularly directed at anyone, eked out, “We’d all be home now if Dylan weren’t always getting in trouble.”
Holly nudged Dylan, “Exactly how trouble do you get yourself into?”
Mark spoke up in his usual abrasive fashion, “She’s always in trouble.”
Holly snapped at Mark, “Was I asking you?” Before Mark could answer, Holly quickly pinched the air in front of her like snatching the words out his mouth, “No, I wasn’t.”
Dylan quietly answered Holly, “I’m not even in trouble now. Ice Queen pushed me and threw all my clothes in the fracking pool. No contest.”
Holly, “Yeah, no contest. We kids, so we gonna loose. We’ll get chewed out, and hopefully thrown out of this hole. Which reminds me,” grabbing a pen out of her backpack, Holly took Dylan’s forearm. Dylan pulled back, but Holly held on, “Relax, it comes out if you wash it.”
Writing her number on Dylan’s arm, Holly continued to explain, “In case we do get kicked out, and you wanna hang out or whatever.”
Dylan looked at the number on her arm and whispered back, “Thanks.”
Itching from the silence, Mark blurted out, “It’s not like I care about Dylan getting in trouble.”
Luke kept staring down at the linoleum floor, “Shut up, Mark.”
Mark didn’t listen, “As long as the Orphan’s in trouble, Isaac ain’t paying me any attention.”
Luke insisted, “Mark, shut your mouth. Now.”
“Come on, you know Dylan’s Dad scares that crap outta you too.”
Luke stood up quick with his fists clenched. The metal chair legs scraped against the linoleum. The silence resumed. After a moment, the door finally flew open. Colonel Yates stood in the doorway facing Brad and finished his threat in a low, cold tone, “And you’d better hope, I don’t hear from you again. Is that understood, young man?”
In almost a squeak, Brad replied, “Yes, Professor.”
Dylan’s Dad gripped the door handle nearly hard enough to snap it off, “It’s Colonel.”
Brad shook his head emphatically, “Of course, Colonel, Sir.”
As soon as Isaac shut the door behind him, Luke started down the hall. The teen with the sullen face let his voice bounced off the walls to the family behind him, “I’m headed to the car.”
Holly whispered to Dylan, “I could watch that boy leave all day long.” Dylan grimaced and prodded her friend in the side. Holly was wholly unapologetic, “Haven’ a brother that’s fine as hell ain’t my fault.”
Standing over his daughter, Isaac put a gentle hand on his Dylan’s shoulder, “You ready to get out of this place?”
There were pros and cons to not being kicked out of the YMCA. Holly was definitely in the plus column. Nearly taking precedence over her new best friend, Dylan had a hunger for justice that needed to be satisfied. In Dylan’s eyes, Isabella was part of a fundamental flaw in society. It wasn’t that bad things happened to good people, but the source of where the bad comes from was rarely challenged, or removed from the playing field entirely. Unlike the real world, if there was a villain in a videogame, you end the villain and you end the conflict.
Unfortunately, life would never be as simple as videogame: of that, Dylan was certain. Isabella couldn’t be removed from the playing field without a significant amount of jail time to follow. Instead, Dylan remembered something her mother once told her; everyone has their own brain-language. There are people that learn specifically by either sight, sound, touch, smell, or in Dylan’s case, videogames. In the span of an afternoon, the young gamer girl had cracked Isabella’s brain-language. By end of the week, the Ice Queen was going to receive a message that would burrow into the deepest parts of her mind and become a permanent and devastating voice of encouragement to never bully anyone, ever again.
Of course, that particular plan had to be pushed aside to make way for the task at hand. Currently, Dylan and Luke were headed towards something out of both their field of expertise. During their long walk towards Amie’s, Dylan’s mind slowly shifted gears forward to the immediate past. She was at least thankful her dad had gone to bat for his daughter. Brad would hopefully leave Dylan well enough alone for the next few days. Hopefully, it would be long enough for her plans to come to fruition.
On the drive home from the YMCA, Dylan tried to hold back laughter while her Dad kept muttering “What an ass-hat,” under his breath.
It just goes to show, there’s nothing like a common enemy to rally behind and exploit for privileges while you’re grounded. With her Game Boy and bike suspended, Dylan argued that she’d at least need some kind of exercise after the camp ordeal. Her father agreed. Always the good soldier. Maybe tomorrow she’d be a better daughter? Perhaps Luke could take the companion class: How to be a Better Step-Brother. Despite opening up last night, Luke had ignored Dylan all day up until right now.
Even now, Luke was speed walking in silence up the desolate stretch of Preston Road. Dylan was trailing behind. It’s not that she couldn’t catch up, but between the beating she got yesterday, and the midnight bike ride, Dylan wasn’t in any hurry. Besides, if Sonic the Hedgehog taught her anything, just because someone tells you to go fast doesn’t mean it’s the best decision. Sure, she’d beaten the game in under twenty-six minutes, but that wasn’t from just being fast. You get the speed record in Sonic because you’re muscles memorize every inch of every level. Unlike Sonic, Dylan still knew next next to nothing about the mission she was currently on.
In any other circumstance, running in blind to something would be just as crazy as leisurely strolling into something blind. But Dylan didn’t consider herself above crazy. After all, it’s the crazy ones who discover the undiscovered land and claim the rewards. Like another classic, you don’t beat Oregon Trail by playing it safe, you beat it because you’re crazy enough to blow all your money on ALL the Oxen and book it to Willamette Valley.
With that in mind, maybe there was a happy medium between lagging behind and racing into the unknown. Dylan decided that now was the right time to develop a new kind of crazy. Inspiration was easy to find considering the neighborhood she and Luke were walking into. They had made a left on Parker and hoped the gate alongside Ranchero Road. As luxurious as Bo Han’s community was, this place was like trying compare a little league team to the Texas Rangers. Every house was the size of a small fortress complete with iron gates, and front lawns that could take a day to traverse. Everything looked immaculate, from the sidewalk to the streets. Every driveway occupied by at least two imported cars. What was immediately unsettling was the disproportionate number of bedrooms of each home they passed, to the actual number of people they saw, or heard.
In its entirety the neighborhood was unnervingly silent. No people. No chirping birds. Not even a single chittering squirrel. Dylan kept darting her head from side to side like an owl, observing the massive outdoor museums of wealth for any signs of life. That’s when the thought finally hit her. When the thought fully blossomed into a mad, nervous fruition, Dylan couldn’t help but burst into a giggle fit, “This place reminds me so much of the Winchester Lady.”
Luke seemed almost startled at the sudden burst of laughter as he looked down at his step-sister, “Who?”
“You’ve never heard of the Winchesters?”
“Should I have?”
“Wow. A Texas boy that doesn’t know the ‘Gun that Won the West’.”
“What the hell are you talkin’ about?”
“A little ways north of where I used to live, the window of the guy who manufactured the WORLD FAMOUS rifle went balls out insane.”
Luke smirked, “Rich people do that sometimes.”
Dylan chuckled, “Well, ya see, the widow thought that the spirits of anyone ever killed by a Winchester rifle were talkin’ at her. According to Sarah Winchester, the spirits said she had to build a room for every person ever killed by her husband’s rifle.”
“Must have been a shit-ton of ghosts.”
Dylan excitedly snapped her fingers, “Exactly, and there were in fact a shit-ton of rooms to match. She kept building, and building, until she had over a hundred rooms.”
Still marching forward, Luke huffed out, “So, the Winchester Lady went insane. What’s your point, Dylan?”
“I just can’t help but laugh when I think about what kind of crazy built that place,” Dylan exclaimed pointing to the gargantuan estate directly in front of them. It was less of a house, and more of a modest community college campus with a backyard to land a jet in. From the sidewalk, an inviting handcut-brick driveway lead to the house was bisected by a black wrought-iron fence standing eight-feet high that encased the property.
Dylan was still laughing to herself, in that sleep deprived and exhausted chuckle that’s difficult to stop once you catch it. Looking over to Luke, the expression on his face was enough to bring any form of joy to a dead halt.
It suddenly dawned on Dylan, and she asked in a quiet voice, “That’s her place isn’t it?”
With a solemn nod, Luke continued to stare longingly at the house, “After the line went dead, I snuck out. Rode over as fast as I could. Wasn’t fast enough. The door was kicked in. Bunch of cops were already there. Amie wasn’t.”
Dylan continued to inspect the house, scanning each sand colored brick, and every red clay shingle with her eyes. Stepping further onto the front lawn, each step brought another chill down her spine. Suddenly she stopped. She could feel fear wrapping its fingers around her ankles. Behind the police tape, the front door remained ajar and off its hinges.
Trying to take another step closer to the gate, Dylan’s ears finally picked up on a low humming sound. A familiar sound. Darting her eyes across the front lawn, she spotted an unmarked police cruiser idling under an archway leading to the garage.
Dylan jumped as Luke grabbed her shoulder. In his usual impatient tone he whispered, “They’re still here,” he said pointing.
Slapping his hand away, the gamer girl whispered back, “Yeah, I can see ‘em. How about you just wave your hands and tell ‘em we’re here too?”
Dylan and Luke retreated back from the house to the other side of the road. Both boy and girl were sizing up the obstacle before them.
To Luke, it seemed the mystery ended here.
To Dylan, this was just another castle to storm.
In her mind, this was exactly what she’d spend hours a day training for. Finally, Dylan had the opportunity to take everything she’d learned in the gameworld and apply it to the real one. Taking in a deep breath, Dylan dug in her heels and spoke with an excited sense of determination, “We have to get in there.”
Luke turned to his step-sister with wide eyes, “You’re crazy if you think I’m gonna let you go inside there.”
With a smirk, Dylan kept her eyes on the prize, looking over the gate that surrounded the massive compound, “We didn’t come all the way out here to be spectators did we?”
Luke grabbed hold of Dylan’s wrist, “You’re not going in there.”
Looking down at her wrist, Dylan shot back nonchalantly, “Maybe if you held on to Amie this tightly, you might not have lost her.”
That was the last straw. Luke pushed Dylan down to the grass. His fists and teeth were clenched as his heart rate spike up over nine-thousand. He was about to throw a swing when Dylan swept his legs out from underneath him with a swift kick. Luke went down, and Dylan knelt down on his chest, pinning his arms, “This is how it’s going to happen; you lost your princess, and we’re going to break into that castle to go find her. It’s that simple. Okay?”
Luke easily overpowered Dylan and shoved her off. Still lying in the grass, Luke took in a deep breath until his pulse slowed down, “Fine.”
Getting to her feet, Dylan offered Luke a hand. He refused, and got himself to a kneeling position. Still staring at Amie’s Mansion, he sighed, “We can’t go in from the front obviously.”
Dylan grinned, “I’m sure there’s another way.”
Dylan followed Luke the long way around the back of the property. It was truly an impressive compound from every angle. The backyard contained a tennis court, massive pool, spa, trampoline, and exactly one tree branch that hung over the massive black fence. As Dylan climbed up the side of the tree, every muscle ached. It was only pain. Pain couldn’t get in the way of a mission.
Luke was surprisingly agile as Dylan watched her step-brother climb up ahead of her. Crawling out onto the branch, Luke rolled off to one side, and dropped to the grass. He crouched low, looking for any sign that their trespass had been discovered. Seemingly in the clear, Luke waved Dylan on. She moved inch by inch out onto the limb that hung over metal spikes at the top of the fence. The branch bowed under Dylan’s weight. She could hear small cracks, and snaps as she approached the end of the branch. In one swift movement, she rolled off the side, catching the branch in her hands and dropped to the grass below.
With all boots on the ground, both teens ran toward the house, crouched low, and single file. They moved quickly across the pool deck. Having weaved through patio furniture, and planters, Dylan and Luke finally made it to the side of the house.
Pressing themselves up against the brick wall to catch their breaths, Dylan turned to Luke and whispered, “What now?” Removing his keychain from his jean pocket, Luke produced a stainless steel multi-tool, and unfolded it into a flathead screwdriver. Holding the screwdriver to the mesh screen covering the window, the weight of the tool began to increase proportionally to his doubt.
Dylan’s patience dried up, “When I told my dad that I wanted, more than anything else in the world, to play video games competitively the price I had to pay was to enlist in the Air Force when I turn eighteen. That’s what I did for video games. Someone you care about might have been taken. What price are you going to pay?” Luke relented, wedging the screwdriver between the screen and the window sill. Before he pried off the screen, Dylan placed a hand on her step-brother’s shoulder, “This is the last chance you get to second guess yourself, okay?”