Chapter 1

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"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

― Ernest Hemingway

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Ronan Thompson arrived home and placed his schoolbag at the door. He stepped out of his scuffed school shoes and slipped his grey socks off. The socks he placed inside the shoes. Still in his uniform of navy pullover draped over a short-sleeved school shirt, complete with grey shorts, he skipped his way to the sprawling forest behind his house.

Dense pine trees towered across the soft grass. Streams of sunlight cascading over everything to give it a golden tinge. The birds chirruped from above, singing mating calls or praises to the summer heat.

In the distance, Ronan could make out the unbalanced, concrete sleeper-wall of the Carter's. The all-boy neighbours barely stayed home in summer. Ronan had often come upon them deep in the forest, beer cans scattered across a woolen blanket while a speaker blasted System of a Down or Billy Talent into the air. They would duly ignore him as teenage boys often did.

Ronan moved deeper into the woods with no real purpose to his walk. His thoughts were lost to the sounds and smells that filtered through his senses. From behind a tree trunk, a small furry rabbit peeked a whiskered nose, twitching as though sensing the approaching boy. Giddy excitement swept through Ronan as he slowed his steps to a cautious walk. The rabbit raised its eyes to the boy with casual nonchalance and began a brisk hop away.

Ronan gave chase.

He could have caught the rabbit easily being a sprightly nine-year-old, but he enjoyed the chase as much as he would enjoy catching the creature. The ball of fur darted behind tree trunks and under bushes, Ronan briskly luring it out with stomps and growls that often turned into laughs.

Eventually Ronan grew tired and with a few quick steps, knelt on the grass to pin the creature down. Bringing it up to his chest, he cuddled it close and felt its body thrum with fear against him. Had anyone walked in on this point, they would have seen a boy innocently holding a rabbit. What they would not have seen, would be the boy's hand gripping the head of the creature tighter with each passing second. His excited breaths and the rise and fall of his chest as adrenaline flowed through him. Exhilaration at crushing the skull of a defenseless rabbit.

The little creature squeaked in pain, its dark eyes roving madly in a wide panicked state. It's body squirming for release while the little feet clawed at the air.

Ronan felt the skull give slightly.

For a brief moment he wondered how much pressure the bone could take before it cracked completely. Unlike rats and mice that gave too quickly, the rabbit's skull proved impossible to break in his hands. With a sigh, he clutched the rabbit closer, tighter and broke its neck with sharp twist of his palm. Ronan rose to his feet, dropping the dead animal onto the grass with a dissatisfied frown.

From beyond the trees he spotted a silhouette gazing out towards him. A thin figure dressed in black. The sun's rays cascaded over it, hiding the features in a golden aura.

The figure raised a hand in greeting, fingers splayed as they waved from side to side. Ronan raised a hand in recognition. The figure's gesture moved from greeting to summoning, the flaps of what seemed like a jacket waving as it called the boy forward.

Ronan submitted.

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A boy wandered from the forest, barefoot and clad in navy school uniform. The drooping skin of his face tightened around the skull as golden locks sprouted from the smoothening skin of his once bald head. 

Slowly bearing Ronan's face, the boy stopped before the house, slipping on the socks and shoes before picking up the schoolbag. He entered the house.

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