Part 1 - Chapter 19 - The Big Reveal

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School resumed. No word from Jacko. I thought about my brother every day and constantly nagged Director Boone for updates. I believed he was as frustrated as I was.

My senior year was hard, but I did the best I could with my studies. I attended classes and Boone encouraged me to continue perfecting my shooting skills. Every afternoon I spent time at the shooting range in the basement.

By Christmas I had shaved a few tenths of a second off my fast draw while maintaining my accuracy. Despite the distractions of daily life, my thoughts dwelled on Jacko. Didn't he care what his disappearance was doing to me? Couldn't he at least mail me a post card to let me know that he was alive?

Trent and I continued to hang together especially in the cafeteria during lunch. He made progress and seemed more open toward not only me, but also with the other students. He even said hello every once in a while to the others. Trent confided in me that Boone continued to give him puzzles to solve, like the weird numbers he had shown to me during the previous summer. The challenge gave him purpose, seemed to make him more sociable.

He remained spooked as ever, though, about his chiraptophobia. Nobody could physically touch him.

The Heralds, at times, seemed like perfectly normal young adults. The four of them enjoyed watching NFL Football at Larry's place since he had a big screen TV. They gave me a standing invitation to join them whenever they were in town. Larry and Stina were die hard Dallas Cowboys fans. Kristi rooted for the Arizona Cardinals, and for some reason that he never said, Grant loved the Detroit Lions.

Stina paid a lot of attention to me which I enjoyed. I wasn't stupid, though. I knew I was being groomed. I had no real expectation that anything would happen between us. Besides, if Larry and Grant weren't able to hit on her, then what chance did I have? Of course, since they worked together, maybe intimacy was considered taboo.

The Heralds would sometimes disappear for days at a time without notice and with no explanation. It served as a sobering reminder. Despite an appearance of normalcy during their downtime, these beautiful people had not befriended me by chance. They were sinister, dark creatures with an agenda. Subconsciously, I knew that they were drawing me in. I knew that, but went along anyway because the camaraderie felt good, and their friendship gave me something to hold on to, filling the void in my life. Being with them made worrying about Jacko less painful.

I cruised through my senior year with three things on my mind, my upcoming eighteenth birthday, graduation from the Gemthe Academy which meant the completion of my sentence, and Jacko. Always Jacko.

My daily routine came to an abrupt end on a February evening when Boone summoned me to his office. The old familiar leather chair waited just inside the door. Boone told me to sit, and I did as he asked.

He leaned back in his chair, regarded me for a moment, and sighed. "Let me get right to the point, Sing. The Heralds need your help."

I knew that someday it would come to this. A chill ran down my spine. "What do you want me to do?"

We left Boone's office. He led me down the corridor and stopped in front of a room that during the orientation on my first day, Darla had called the Red Chamber. I looked at the bright red double doors with their shiny handles.

"Very few students have passed this threshold," Boone said, his tone soft and reverent. "What goes on in the Red Chamber is highly confidential."

I followed Boone into the room holding my breath in anticipation of what I might see. My heartbeat increased along with the rise in my anxiety level.

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