He reached out for the blaring alarm clock. Tiredly fumbling with the button, the sound ceased. One of the only things he hated about high school was 6 o’clock. Every day for the past two months, (on the weekdays at least,) he woke up at six. Sighing, Sam slowly crawled out of bed then pulled on his jeans and favorite Volcom t-shirt. He grabbed his backpack and took his sweatshirt off the rack. Opening the door, he walked down the hallway, down the stairs, and into the bathroom. He took a quick shower, then headed for the kitchen. Looking around, he realized his mom wasn’t up yet, so he put a piece of bread in the toaster and set it for two and a half minutes. He heard the beep, took it out, then grabbed a banana off the shelf. He took his keys off the counter and stepped out the door.
The Wright’s house was simple: a blue door stood at the front, and the rest was painted seal grey. A small picket fence lined the yard, which only held grass. There were two bathrooms, two bedrooms, and a kitchen; nothing much, just an average house. But Sam didn’t mind the small space, especially now that the house only had two occupants.
Sam thought about his dad often, and today was particularly harsh, though he didn’t know why. Maybe he was growing up, but not wanting to. Maybe he was afraid that he would leave his father behind. The school bus wasn’t a long walk, and before long, the ground blurred beneath the wheels.
He walked to the back, sitting next to his friend, James Jackson. For a couple minutes, neither said a word, then, “Yesterday’s math was pretty hard, huh?” James said.
“Yeah. Problem seventeen.” said Sam. James let out a chuckle.
James was probably his best friend. They had both lost their dads, Sam’s to a fire, James’s to gunshots. James had moved to Portland from Baltimore a year ago, right after his father died. It was nice to have someone who understood.
*** They got off the school bus, and walked to first period. Chem was uneventful, something about the structure of atoms. They also learned about positive and negative charges. It was followed by calculus, French, and free period. At lunch he met with James and his sister, Harmony Jackson. They chatted a bit and ate their food. Sam ate his banana. After lunch, he had auto, then English. The school day crawled along slowly, and by the time Sam got out of English, he felt like he had been in there for an eternity. Getting onto the bus, he sat next to James. They talked about how their auto teacher was hard of hearing because of all the machinery, and they laughed a bit.
Sam started the walk home, his hands in his pockets, humming to himself. He turned the corner onto his block. Flames were roaring over a house four streets down. His house.
He started running, yelling for help. His mom worked at home so she would most likely be inside. While sprinting, he pulled out his phone and dialed 911. Running at full tilt, he heard a voice say, “Is anything wrong?”
“Yes, my house is on fire, and I think my mother’s inside!” Sam screamed into the phone.
“What is the address?” the voice said.
“4583 Ashborough Lane, Portland Oregon.” Sam said frantically, still running.
“We’ll be there shortly.” The operator hung up and Sam stuffed his phone back in his pocket, arriving at the house. Fire was not yet licking at the door, and he opened the gate. Sam ran towards the front door, and turned the knob. It seared his fingers, presumably from fire on the inside. He grunted at the pain, but didn’t dwell on it. He looked at the house to find the closest window. Running towards it, Sam jumped at the pane, and the glass shattered.
He instantly felt like he was in an oven, but he pushed on. Now inside, he focused on the task at hand. He sprinted upstairs towards his mother's office, slamming his hand onto the door handle in the process. He could smell burning flesh, but he pushed on anyway, adrenaline coursing through his veins. Sam ran through the fire, yelling to handle the pain. He saw his mother, lying unconscious in the desk chair, the computer still on the website she had last browsed. Picking her up, Sam frantically searched for a way out, but now the fire had completely covered the doorway. Setting his mom down, Sam opened the window and noticed a ledge below. He grabbed his mother and jumped through the window onto the veranda. It was not a far drop, but with the weight of another person, Sam almost fell over. He looked over the next drop, which was considerably higher, maybe eight feet. “Well, it’s either the fire or this,” and with that, he jumped.
His legs were in agonizing pain. Maybe they were broken, maybe just fractured. Sam didn’t care. It hurt. A lot. He thought to himself that at least his mother was alright. At that exact moment, the paramedics arrived. It was uncanny that his father was killed in a fire, and now possibly his mother too. And with that last thought, he fell into the deep embrace of unconsciousness.
*** He woke up and reached out for the alarm clock, but then realized there was none. It all flooded back to him. The fire, his mother, his broken legs, or at least, he thought he had broken them. He opened his eyes, and sure enough, it wasn’t a dream. He was lying in a hospital bed, surgeons bustling around him. Lifting his head up, he realized he was at an ER he had been to once before. Oddly, right at that moment, James walked in somberly. His face brightened when he saw Sam awake. He said, “How are you doing?”
“As good as I could be, I guess,” Sam whispered. He realized that his lungs hurt, probably from inhaling all of the ash.
“I was worried about you,” James said, “I tried to get Harmony to come, but she has a history final tomorrow, so she wanted to study.”
“It’s alright,” Sam said, then asked in a much more worried tone, “How’s my mom?”
“Don’t know, the doctors haven’t let anyone inside. I tried to check for you, but they said no one was allowed in.”
Sam tried to get up, then winced. His legs had given out with a sharp twinge of pain. He asked, “Do you know if my legs are broken?”
“No, you’re good. The doctors said it was just a bad sprain, so you should be completely fine in a month or so.” James replied.
“Okay,” Sam said, laying his head back on the stiff pillow and drifting back to sleep. He slept for another few days, getting up only to eat and drink. Once he was well enough to walk with crutches, he was let out of the hospital. Sam lived with James and his family for a while, living life as normal, besides crutches and his regular visits to the hospital to see his mother. Eventually, his legs healed, but with nowhere to go, he still lived with James. One day after school, he told Harmony and James to go home without him. Sam wanted to see his house one more time.
The walk was much like it had previously been, and he could almost pretend as if nothing had happened. Almost. He turned the block and came up to the house. It was just an empty lot. The grass had been ripped up and replaced with dirt, and a small chain link fence lined the perimeter. He jumped over the fence and walked to where the door would have been. His eyes started to water, not for the house, but for the memories that had burned away. He hoped his mother would be okay, and seeing the house was very demoralizing. He turned to leave, then something on the ground caught his eye. A small watch lay in the dust, and Sam picked it up. He looked on the back, and saw a name carved there: Fengal. He had no idea what it meant, but he put it on his wrist. Maybe it was a family watch, and he would take any memento he could get.
The next day, he went into the hospital looking for his mother. When the doctors let him into the room, he sat down in a small, uncomfortable wooden chair. After a few minutes, he was about to get up to leave when, “Sam…” his mother said quietly.
He quickly turned around, and then said, “Mom, you’re awake!” He went over to her bedside and gave her a gentle hug.
“How are you feeling?”
She laughed, then regretted it, coughing into her sleeve, “Look at me, I look like I could run a marathon,” she said jokingly.
“I hope you get well soon.” Sam said. “And I’ll be back tomorrow to check on you.”
His mother then oddly stopped for a moment, looking at the watch on his wrist, “That’s funny. Your dad’s friend, John Fengal had that exact same watch,” she then started rambling on about other events in her past, going into a delirious state. Sam gave her a kiss on the forehead, then quietly left the room. What she had said disturbed him. Fengal… It couldn’t be a coincidence that the watch was there in the remains of the house. There had to be some reason John Fengal, or his watch, was there. It was no coincidence, but how Sam could tell he didn’t know.
The next day at school, he told Harmony and James about the mysterious watch.
“Well, it’s obviously a clue to who set the fire,” Harmony said.
“You’ve been reading too many mystery books,” James said.
“It’s the best lead we’ve got,” Harmony said.
“I’ve got to agree with Harmony on this one,” Sam said, “I want to find whomever lit that fire.” He had been so distraught before this moment that he hadn’t realized that someone could have caused the fire. His mother had always been conscious with the burners on the stove, and he found it hard to believe that the candles she sometimes lit to keep the rooms peaceful could have started the blaze. The arsonist better watch out.
*** The next day at school after Sam had finished last period, he began formulating a plan with James and Harmony.
“First of all, one of us should search up this Fengal guy,” Harmony said. James pulled out his phone. They all waited expectantly for a few minutes, then James said, “It says here he owns a mansion in Lincoln city. The address is 157 Handred Lane.” He scrolled farther down, then read, “He’s also an accomplished businessman. He’s the head of some popular home architecture company.”
Sam rubbed his hands together then said, “Well then, Fengal’s going to have a nice surprise in store for him soon.”
They spent the rest of the day in James’s room, finalizing their plans. For one, they would have to find a way to get out of the house for possibly more than a day.
James said that they could leave super early in the morning, then skip school. Then
the more pressing matter. They would have to find a way to get to Lincoln which was more than a hundred mile drive.
“I know where mom leaves her keys to the Volvo,” Harmony said with a devilish smile.
“What, are you crazy?!” James said.
“You know she’s sick. She probably won’t even notice. Besides, she works from home anyways, so she probably won’t leave the house,” Harmony said, trying to look innocent.
“I know that! But that’s not the only problem. Even though Sam is starting to learn to drive, he still doesn’t have his license. ”
“But isn’t it worth it to break the rules to get to the man who caused the fire?”
“Well Sam, it’s your call,” James said, done with the banter and turning to his friend.
It took Sam a second to realize his friend was talking to him, then he said, “My call? Well, honestly, you guys don’t have to come or do anything. But I’m going to get to the bottom of this. If you two are up for it, then let’s go.
*** They woke up the next morning, having had set their alarm clocks for 3:30 a.m. The trio quietly crept down the stairs into the living room. James grabbed his mother’s keys off the shelf. Once they got outside, James handed the keys to him and said quietly, “Well, here you go.” The Volvo was a 2006 S80. It was old and clunky, but it worked just fine. You couldn’t see the color in the gloom, but it was forest green. The three of them got into the car, Harmony banging her head on the way in due to the darkness. She let out a small yelp, then slid into the backseat. After they were all in the car, she said, “We should probably take the backroads. Sam, pull up the address on Google Maps, and try to avoid freeways. Cops would make this excursion much more dangerous.
They started down the street, Sam’s hands glued to the steering wheel. His mind was going over the things his driving instructor had told him. Hands at ten and two. Ease into the clutch. He was so busy repeating what he learned in his head that on the first turn, he miscalculated and had to swerve to correct his mistake.
“Woah, where are you going?” James said.
“Just give me a minute to get the hang of it,” Sam responded.
Ten minutes later, they were on their way. Sam had begun to relax. They had only seen three or four cars. The navigator told them to take Harland Lane onto the 101, but instead, they followed a back road for a few hours. On a straight route, it would normally only take an hour and a half, but with all the backroads, the trip would most likely take them the best part of four and a half hours. He eventually heard James's snores and the sound of Harmony humming to her headphones. The hours passed in silence, no one making a sound, until eventually, the voice of the navigator said, “You have arrived at your destination.” Sam shook James awake, and he grunted in protest. The three opened their doors. It was 8:30 am, and the sun shone palely in the morning sky. Sam stretched his legs, stiff from holding down the gas. The countryside was bursting with color, wildflowers in full bloom painted the hills. They saw an imposing stone house in the distance, it looked to be a Victorian. Past the house, steep cliffs dropped into the frothy ocean below.
“Let’s get going,” Sam said, and the group began walking towards the house. The land around the mansion was covered in wildflowers, but there was a deep sinister sense to the area. A murder of crows were sitting on the veranda, cawing in their awful key. The three slowed down, crouching lower to the ground than before. They went up to the house slowly, and as quietly as they could, shooed the birds away from the porch. As cautiously and quietly as a he could, Sam crept up to the house and rang the doorbell. A deep ringing noise reverberated from the house. Sam jumped at the noise. “I don’t like this,” Harmony said, her voice quavering.
“Me neither,” her brother said.
Then with a creak, the door began to open and Sam let out a miniscule squeal. A man stood before them, tall and thin, face pale, and eyes devoid of expression.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” he said.
“Y-yes sir, Sam said, voice quavering, “We w-were wondering if we could see John Fengal.
“The master is busy at the moment, and he is not accepting visitors,” the man said.
“B-but, it’s urgent sir,” Sam said hurriedly, then steeling himself, he continued, “Here, I wanted to know if he knew anything about this.”
He handed the man the watch, and he took it.
“Oh, I’m sorry, the master is expecting you, go right ahead,” the man said in a silky tone.
“Wait, he’s expecting us?” Harmony said. Then, “Thank you sir, if you'd just give us a moment to discuss the matter,” then she quickly turned around and said more quietly to the two boys, “This has bad written all over it. If this is truly the man who burned down your house and tried to kill your mother, we should not go into this house.”
“But it’s the only chance we’ve got,” Sam said.
“I think Sam’s right, it says trap all over it, but it’s the only lead we’ve got.”
They broke out of their huddle, then smiled at the man and stepped inside the house.
The inside was dark, the lamps on the ceiling dimmed. But overall, it had a friendly demeanor. Sofas were arranged around a coffee table, and paintings of mountains and rivers were hung on the wall.
“Up you go,” the man said, pointing towards the stairway.
They followed him up the stairs to an oak door at the end of the hall.
“This is the master’s study,” the man knocked, then stepped back. Before anyone
could move, the door opened.
A hawklike figure stood in the doorway, ominous and looming. “Come in,” he said.
The children nervously followed him inside the study. The doors slammed behind them, and James jumped with a small cry of alarm.
“So, children, why have you come to see me?” he said, most likely already knowing the answer.
“B-because of this,” Sam said, handing the man the watch. Harmony had her hands behind her back, finding her phone in her back pocket, ready to press the emergency call button.
“Oh, that little thing,” the man said bitterly, “That stupid man gave me that as a wedding present.”
“What stupid man?” Sam asked tentatively.
“Your father, you idiot! I thought you would have been smart enough to piece it together by now. The bastard killed my wife!” John Fengal said, practically screaming.
“My father was no murderer!” Sam yelled back, gaining courage from the insult.
“Oh yes he was,” Fengal said, softer, smoother, like a pit viper waiting to strike. Harmony had pressed the call button, thumbing 911, the man continued, “I will never forget the night he let her die. A simple cold killed her, and your father let her die. They said he was the best doctor in the state, Ha! I was best man at his damn wedding, and that was how he repaid me? No, killing him wasn’t enough, I had to end the life of the ones he loved the most. What better way to do it the same as before, in a fire.” John said the whole speech said maniacally, like he was possessed. “But. I suppose now that you three know about all that, it’s the end of the road,” John Fegal said, pulling out a revolver.
But Sam was not yet ready to die, “Go to hell,” he said, then, raising his fist, he hit the man as hard as he could. Fengal was so surprised that he had no defense from the punch, and dropped unconscious. From there, it was complete chaos: Harmony talking to the police over the phone and James locking the door behind him in case the creepy butler decided to drop in for a visit. Sam was satisfied. The blood from the man's nose was running across his hand. Sam thought that maybe he had broken one of his fingers, but he didn’t care. All he felt was pure hatred for the man who had killed his father. James ran over to John Fengal’s limp body, tying him up with a climbing rope he had in his backpack. Sam sat down, the adrenaline draining from his body. He crumpled. His father was killed in a fire set by the very man in front of him. He was a hairline away from grabbing the Desert Eagle off the ground and killing the man in front of him. He decided that would have been a bad idea.The next thirty minutes were a blur, and if you asked Sam what had happened he couldn't have told you. The police arrived and handcuffed the murderer. They thoroughly questioned the three children, who told them the whole story, besides the part about taking the car.
Afterwards, the Portland Police Bureau asked them if they needed a ride home, but they said no. The trio walked to the edge of the bluffs and sat down. The sun was midway in its journey across the sky and the sea swirled below them. Sam put his hand in his pockets and sighed, sitting in silence for a long while. When he took his hands out of his pockets, he put it on James’s shoulder, and his friend returned the gesture. The three got up, and without looking back they returned to the car to drive home.
A month later, Sam’s mother was out of the hospital, looking frail, but very much alive. They all went back to school, trying to pretend everything was normal again, but it wasn’t. He didn’t have a house, he and his mother were nearly broke, and he had discovered his father’s murderer. There were still odd history tests on Napoleon and the Cold War, their near deaf Auto teacher, and bananas at lunch. But every time the friends saw each other between class, all they could think about was a watch, a fire, and a murder.