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Authors: Dr. Alan D. Hansen

Demeter

BOOK: Demeter
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Demeter

By Alan D. Hansen

Text copyright © 2014 Alan D. Hansen All Rights Reserved

To my family who have been an endless source of inspiration, and to those who would make better of the world they are in.

Prologue

 

              Ryder sat on the cold, rocky ground leaning against a boulder.  He was holding a single shot Tazer.  The bleeding in his right leg was staunched by the rock shard that had ricocheted off the wall in the last round of fire and embedded in his flesh. 

              "Who would have thought," Ryder muttered to himself, then fell silent as he realized the noise might pinpoint him to the alien who wanted him dead. 
Who would have thought eight months ago that I would be sitting in a cave a hundred light years from Earth waiting for an alien to kill me? 
He almost laughed, but held it in.  If he wasn't careful he might lose consciousness too soon. 
If I can just hold on a few minutes longer.
  UFOs, aliens, garden planets within rocky shells, galactic wars, all real and all of little consequence if he did not survive the next few minutes.

              The clatter of loose rocks to his left drew his attention. It would be over soon.  The first thing Ryder noticed as his assailant turned the corner were the boots, and for an instant his mind flashed back to a dance that seemed a hundred years ago.

 

Chapter 1: A Fateful Decision

Ryder wouldn’t admit it, but he had been looking forward to the school dance since Monday. He was hoping that Cynthia Flores would ask him to dance. It wasn’t impossible. She’d actually talked with him briefly in the hall last Monday, much to the chagrin of the cowboy crowd. Cynthia was neutral territory. She made no claims to either the cowboys nor the skaters, so he wasn’t sure why the cowboys had been glaring so fiercely at him. It wasn’t as if Cynthia were cowboy property.

That was Monday, and Ryder had been battling with himself ever since. If he avoided the dance, he avoided confrontations with the many guys in the school that seemed to find him threatening. But if he went, he might get to dance with Cynthia. It wasn’t until Wednesday night that he’d finally talked himself into going.

Thursday seemed to drag on forever.  Even his favorite teacher, Mr. Small, failed to hold his attention.  At two o’clock the bell rang and Ryder sat frozen at his desk for a moment.
Maybe this dance isn’t a good idea for me. Maybe Cynthia won’t ask me to dance. Maybe…

Ryder’s thoughts were interrupted by two of his casual friends, Blade and Stitch.  They were among a dozen or so kids  that had been classified as the skaters. The group members had a tendency to wear all black, or almost all black clothes all the time and carry skateboards, which always stuck out predominately from their backpacks. However, Ryder knew that three of the skaters didn’t even own a skateboard. “Well, are you coming?” Blade asked.

Ryder knew what the question meant. It meant, “Let’s get out of here, go the convenience store, hang out until the cowboys are all dispersed, maybe have a drink, and then go home.”

“Ah, not today. I think I’ll go to the dance.”

“Are you crazy? They’ll kill you if you go there alone!” Stitch responded with a look of sheer terror on his face.

Ryder realized Stitch was being overdramatic. No one had been killed, yet. But one of the comforts of being a skater was that if there were three or four of you together you usually didn’t get harassed or beat up.

“Why don’t we all go to the dance?”

“Uh-uh! Not me. I like my body parts just the way they are,” Blade said.

“We’ll see you tomorrow,” Blade and Stitch said almost in unison.

Then Blade added, “If you’re still alive.”

Ryder parted from his friends and walked down the hallway toward the gymnasium.  He detoured into the boys restroom.  He stared at himself in the mirror as he washed his face and ran his fingers through his unkempt brown hair.  Dark brown eyes stared back at his thin frame.  It bothered him that his sister in seventh grade was only two inches shorter than he was now.  He wore black jeans and a black t-shirt, covered by an olive green army jacket that was heavily frayed. 
Well, it's now or never
.  Finally he decided he wasn’t going to let a bunch of cowboys scare him away from the dance.

 

The dance was pretty casual and very crowded. It was being held in the gymnasium. All of the basketball hoops had been cranked up. Even so, there were a few kids who’d found a basketball and were trying to shoot through the oddly angled hoops. There were some streamers running across the ceiling. Someone had found a disco balls that reflected colors across the room. Most of the lights were out, but as it was mid-afternoon, it wasn’t really dark. The room was humid, with too many bodies in too small a space. The music was piping through a sound system.

Ryder got his first real surprise in months. Mrs. Peterson, his gray haired math teacher was the DJ, and she was playing music he was familiar with. He didn’t really listen to mainstream stuff much, but he did recognize it. He stood in awe, staring across to the stage. Mrs. Peterson really seemed to be into it.

Looking around, Ryder saw a few people he knew by face, but not really by name. After his surprise with Mrs. Peterson, he drifted toward the north side of the gymnasium and found himself standing near, but not in, one of the groups of boys. There were a number of girls dancing together in groups. He noticed they were mostly jumping up and down to the music. There were a handful of couples dancing near the center of the floor. On the far side of the gymnasium he could see small cliques of girls standing, chatting, and giggling, occasionally looking toward the north side of the gymnasium and giggling even more.

Scanning the room, he eventually spotted Cynthia jumping up and down in one of the groups of about eight girls.
Wait a minute! Is that Debbie jumping up and down with Cynthia?
Apparently his sister Debbie had managed to smuggle herself into the dance. He continued to watch Cynthia, and occasionally Debbie, dancing. In the course of three successive numbers, Debbie waved at him twice, and he saw a smile once from Cynthia that he thought was aimed his way.

Finally, Mrs. Peterson put on a slow dance, and the girls dispersed to their respective side of the gymnasium. Ryder was debating with himself. Apparently, if they were going to dance, he was going to have to ask Cynthia. His other option was to leave. This really wasn’t an environment he was comfortable in. He made two steps toward Cynthia, then abruptly turned west toward the exit and made three more steps. He then just stopped, indecisive.

“Well, if it isn’t Spider Ryder,” Barry Hales sneered from somewhere behind him.

Ryder knew that responding was a waste of time, but he couldn’t help himself. He turned around. Barry wasn’t as tall as Ryder, but he had the build of a football player. Barry was a star player on the junior high team, and was already the talk of the high school coaches. Ryder wasn’t sure what position he played, but knew it had something to do with knocking people over and trying to hurt the quarterback in any way possible.

“Wow, Barry, did you stay up all night thinking that up?” Ryder knew he shouldn’t bait Barry.

“You’re gay!” Barry taunted, but started to turn away.

Ryder was ready for this one. “If you mean happy, carefree, merry, bright…not really.”

Barry turned back. Ryder knew he should have let Football Head move on to harass someone else.

“Come on, show me what you got.” Barry’s knuckles were folding, not a good sign.

“Let me see, you’re what, a blue belt in aikido?” Ryder asked.

“Aiki what?” Barry was starting to boil.

“You know, the Japanese self-defense art using principles of non-resistance to debilitate the strength of the opponent.”

“No! I’m a black belt in karate,” stormed Barry

“Ah, the art of the empty hand.”

“Empty hand!” Barry exploded. “I’ll show you empty hand.”

Ryder received a double jab from Mr. Karate. He fell back two steps, trying to get his breath back. “Impressive,” he said, choking.

“You’re going down, punk. I’ll turn you into a punching bag.” Barry sent another punch at Ryder’s solar plexus.

Ryder shifted enough to take the punch as a glancing blow, then dropped to the floor. “You win, I’m down. Congratulations.”

Ryder hadn’t counted on the mocking laughter from the growing audience. This unexpected turn was bad news.

Ryder noticed Barry’s pointed-toe cowboy boots as one came flying at his stomach. The connection knocked the wind out of him, and he could hear the laughter cut off. That was the last moment he was aware of the surroundings for the next several seconds. Repeated blows came to his face, back, and stomach, depending on how he turned to avoid further contact. He was starting to fade in and out when a chaperone (he thought) arrived and broke up the “fight.” The throbbing pain started to overcome him. “That didn’t turn out so well,” he mumbled as he threw up, then passed out.Ryder wasn’t sure how long he was out, but he was still on the floor in the same position, so it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds. As shapes started to come into focus, he was wishing he was still unconscious. The throbbing pain was starting in. He’d felt pain like this before. When was it? Oh yes, when he fell out of that tree and cracked a rib. But in this case, he couldn’t make up his mind which hurt worse, his face or his back or his ribcage.
Yup, that same cracked rib.
Ryder wondered whether the rib was cracked or broken this time. Meanwhile, it felt like someone had gone over his face with a hammer.
No, that was cowboy boots, wasn’t it?
he thought.

With his vision back into focus, he saw Mr. Small standing over him in an almost protective crouch and trying to check his pulse at the same time. There was some sort of altercation going on beyond his vision, and screaming, he thought.

“Mr. Small, I’m alive,” Ryder croaked. He realized he must have been kicked in the throat as well.

“We’re calling an ambulance. Lie still.” Mr. Small was using his reassuring voice.

“I’m fine.” Ryder tried to get up, but the throbbing made it easy to relent to Mr. Small’s severe look.

“Come on kids, the show’s over. Back away. We need some air here,” Mr. Small commanded.

The crowd seemed to disperse quickly as there was something else going on just out of Ryder’s vision. Finally, he was able to make out something that made him wonder if he was delirious. Debbie seemed to be flying in circles and he caught glimpses of Cynthia swinging just below her. Suddenly, Debbie seemed to disappear, and there was a great deal of laughter. Ryder thought,
I must really be fading. Maybe I’m dying.
Then he heard another sharp voice.
Was that Mrs. Peterson?

“Get off him you two!”

There was an abrupt screech. Ryder had never heard anything quite so terrifying in his life. It sounded like…well nothing Ryder could imagine. Then his senses came to him quickly. Barry was obviously beating up Debbie. The adrenalin kicked in, and Ryder rose to his feet, holding his side. What he saw made him start to chuckle. His ribs just couldn’t take it. Barry Hales’ voice could now be heard distinctly yelling, “Get them off me! Get them off me!” Mrs. Peterson seemed to be taking her time removing Cynthia and Debbie from Barry, who was now collapsed on the floor. Debbie had two handfuls of hair that had apparently belonged to Barry in her clenched fists. Ryder saw a glaring bald spot on one side of Barry’s head. Cynthia’s foot was retracting from one of those spots guys just don’t like to think about getting kicked. Ryder started to laugh, then spluttered, “Oh no,” and fell unconscious to the floor.

BOOK: Demeter
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