Only a couple of months after Mexico, Atticus saw Dylan on his bike and was surprised to see that Bjorn wasn’t with him. With his bow strapped to his back, Atticus was sure that Dylan was heading to the nearby indoor archery range where the boys had a membership. Bjorn almost always tagged along with Dylan, but not today. As it was only a few blocks away and a sunny Colorado day, Atticus decided to walk to the range. It might finally be time to have the serious discussion that he needed to have with Dylan.
The adults had spent hours trying to sort out the future and how to deal with the invasion. In many ways, they were trapped in a catch-22. The only thing that they had that might be considered proof was Bjorn’s abilities. However, the more people that knew about Bjorn’s talents, the more the boy was at risk when the invasion began. It was frustrating and overwhelming, but at the same time completely surreal. It was hard to believe that there even was another world that would invade Earth.
The range was empty when Dylan arrived. The clerk greeted him and bid him to have some fun with the space all to himself. He walked through the retail area of the store, barely glancing at the products, making his way into the enclosed range. The space itself was nothing more than an old warehouse that had been converted into an indoor archery range. A few fake trees and shrubs had been placed in various spots to give some minor illusion of the outdoors, but the bullseyes spaced a few feet apart on the far wall were the reason that people came.
Atticus came into the back of the range and quietly sat down. Dylan didn’t notice that his family friend was in the building watching him. Dylan filled three of the tubes for holding arrows with six arrows each. The first target was at twenty yards, the second at thirty, and the fourth at forty yards.
He started at the twenty-yard mark. The first shot was sloppy. It hit the outside blue ring of the target, and Dylan cussed at himself, demanding that he focus. Taking a deep breath, he set his stance. He let the bow hang by his side for a moment, making sure he was gripping it in the correct place. He raised the bow and notched the arrow. In a fluid motion, he pulled back the arrow, his hand coming to his jawbone. Focusing on the target, he released the arrow. It hit the target with a thud, barely outside the yellow bullseye. The next four arrows flew true, each landing within the small yellow bullseye.
Dylan stepped back to the thirty-yard mark. Atticus remained still, and Dylan didn’t notice the man as he began the same routine, shooting at a new target thirty yards away. The six arrows scattered across the target, but all in all, proved a decent set.
Dylan, having stepped back to the forty-yard mark, notched another arrow. In rapid succession, he let all six arrows fly. Each one smacked into the yellow bullseye of the target, crowding the center of the plastic sheet. Dylan walked up to the targets and pulled all eighteen arrows out, refilling the six tubes. As he finished placing his arrows in the last tube, he realized that his friend was sitting and watching him. He smiled and trotted back.
“Hey, Mr. Freeman,” Dylan greeted Atticus. “I didn’t know you were here watching. How long have you been here?”
“It’s good to see you, Dylan,” replied Atticus. “I’ve been here for a bit. Go ahead and shoot your next set.”
When Dylan moved over to the twenty-yard mark, only three of the arrows found the yellow bullseye, but the others were close. He moved to the thirty-yard mark, only getting one of the six arrows into the bullseye. The first two arrows from the forty-yard mark were wide when Dylan felt Mr. Freeman’s hand on his shoulder.
“Put the last four into the bullseye again,” Atticus told him. “I want to see you do it again.”
Dylan looked at Mr. Freeman, not sure what to think. The man had come to his brother’s aid in Mexico and killed one of the men who were likely going to kill Bjorn. In many ways, Atticus was like a grandfather that Dylan never had. He didn’t know what the coming days would hold, but he felt like he would need Mr. Freeman’s help. Closing his eyes for a moment, he knew that he could trust the one person he knew from the planet of Koranth.
Dylan spun and released three arrows one after another at lightning speed. Each of the arrows slammed into the yellow bullseye with tremendous force. Dylan and Mr. Freeman both stood for a minute, looking at the target.
Dylan was notching the last arrow when he felt Mr. Freeman’s hand on his shoulder. Mr. Freeman took the final arrow from Dylan and studied it. Looking back at Dylan, he said, “Do this one without the bow,” and then tossed it into the air.
The arrow ripped through the air, sending a shrill sound through the room. Its point drove through the nock of one of the arrows in the bullseye, splitting the shaft in half and burying itself deep in the target.
“How long have you known, Dylan?” asked Mr. Freeman.
“For over a year,” replied Dylan. “I’m sorry I didn’t say anything.”
“That’s okay. Does your family know?”
“No one knows, except for you,” replied Dylan, relieved to finally have let this secret out, but starting to shake a little. “When I started to figure it out, I was like, ‘Whoa, this is cool!’ But then I watched how a couple of the kids at my school are treated. They are different.”
“Dylan, it’s all okay,” Mr. Freeman assured.
“Everything was so wrong in Tennessee. For a while, I thought maybe I was the demon that everyone was so scared of. What if it was all me? I don’t want to be a freak. My brother can pull this off like no one else. I can’t. I just want to fit in. I don’t want people to think of me as a freak.”
“I understand, Dylan,” Atticus offered compassionately, as he put his arm around the teen’s trembling shoulder. Dylan’s sniffle turned to tears. The teenager began to sob a little bit harder, and Atticus pulled him tighter.
“You don’t understand, Mr. Freeman,” Dylan choked out between the sobs. “I killed that man. It was me, not Hector.”
“I know,” replied Atticus.
“What? You knew?” asked Dylan.
“Well, up until a few minutes ago, I had a strong feeling that it wasn’t Hector, but was you,” Atticus confided. “He just looked too shocked in that moment after I killed Dr. Tarea. Someone else in the room had to have the focus and determination to protect us. It wasn’t Hector. Plus, whoever it was, had to get that knife out of Hector’s belt and put it into that man’s neck. I just had a feeling it was you.”
“Please, don’t tell anyone,” Dylan pleaded, as he began to regain his composure. “I have to protect Bjorn, and it might be useful that I can do what he can do. But I don’t want anyone to know.”
“I think for now,” began Atticus, “that might be an excellent idea.”
“Thanks. And, um, sorry for crying. I didn’t mean to.”
“You are one of the most determined, brave souls that I have ever met. I am your friend, and I will be here for you, no matter what,” Atticus swore. “You are an amazingly strong young man. I can’t predict the future, Dylan, but I do know this – the strength that you have will be needed, by your brother, by your mother, and possibly – by everyone on Earth.”
• • •
|Chapter 43||Chapter 45|