Shadow Net

Chapter 1: Life as I knew it

I took a deep breath and let the cool air fill my lungs. It was a brisk autumn day. Strike that, it wasn't brisk. It was downright chilly. It didn't help that the football gear I was wearing didn't provide much protection from the cold air.

I was wearing the royal blue jersey of my high school. The Smithsville Knights, of Smithsville Minnesota. I wore number 57. On the back of my jersey was my last name in gray font, "Corbank". Our school colors, Royal blue and silver (actually just light gray). We wore the colored jerseys because we were the visitors at this game. The other team wore white and brick red colored jerseys. The colors of our much hated rivals, Hill Point Rattle Snakes. A preppy, rich school with school uniforms and stuff like that.

Throughout the existence of our two schools we had faced off on the football field 27 times. This would be number 28. They had won 13 times, we had won 14 times. They had a shot to tie up the record with this game but we didn't what that to happen. Football was the one thing we had over these rich kids. And they very, very much had a chance of winning.... dang it all!

So the score is 21-21, tied. Fourth quarter with only 36 seconds left. They had possession of the ball on the our own four yard line, yikes. Although it was fourth down so all we had to do was stop them on this one play and take the game into overtime. Hopefully, we could beat them there.

On the previous play it was third down with four yards. They tired to pass the ball into the end zone but I managed to get a hand on the ball and knock it to the ground, ending the play. You'd think my teammates would be glad that I made the play but their respect for me was as thin as our coaches hairline. Now at fourth down I stood in a huddle with my, oh so kind teammates.

I was the middle linebacker and captain of our team's defense because at very least my coach showed me some respect. I looked over the top of the huddle towards our coach for our play. He gave me a signal for a play called, Shield Play 37. Basically, it was a pass stopping play in the end zone. It was nothing fancy but it was effective. I relayed my coach's orders back to my team, "Okay boys, lets get it done. Shield play 37."

J.K. Donaldson, our teams left linebacker gave me a nasty look through the face mask of his royal blue helmet. He, like most of the students of my school didn't care much for me. He was one of the worst ones though. He often took it to a whole different level. He expressed that here in the huddle of all places, "Don't mess this up!"

I rolled my eyes as we broke the huddle and got into our line. I stood back in the end zone waiting until the opposing quarterback snapped the ball. There I would wait until I saw the ball was passed into the air. Then I would make my move. At least that was what the played called for but that changed.

As I stood there with the home team crying out a supportive chant for their team, I noticed as the quarterback was calling out his play to his team, he locked eyes with me. It wasn't just a passing glance but he was looking at me with reason.

He must have noticed he was staring at me because he quickly looked away and tried to act like he was looking at me for no apparent reason. I already figured him out though. He wasn't passing. The quarterback was going to try a sneak play and run it right up the middle. I was his main obstacle and that was why he locked eyes with me.

Normally, if I was in a better team, I'd call an audible and change the play. I knew though there wasn't a chance in hell that my team would ever listen to my orders unless it came from the coach. So why bother calling an audible when my team wouldn't listen? The only thing I'd accomplish is revealing that I knew something was up and tipping my hand to the opponent. So I just shut up and waited.

So I leaned forward, getting ready to blitz. I took another cold breath of air, and anxiously gripped my hands into fists. Then, he snapped the ball. The quarterback took the ball into his hands and the play began. He dropped back as if he was going to pass the ball. He fooled everyone but me. While my teammates fell back, I charged forward. So did the quarterback. He tucked the ball into his arms and began running up the middle between a gap in the front line. One my teammates knocked an opposing player onto the ground in front of the rushing QB's running lane. The QB had to hurdle over them and leapt into the air. I lowered my head and leapt at the same time he did. We were both airborne but that didn't last for very long. We met in the air with my right shoulder slamming into his stomach and cradled arms. I knocked him backwards and far away from his much desired end zone.

The next thing I knew he was on his back and I had landed on my hands on knees. I looked down at the QB with wide open eyes. The ball was not in his hands. I forced the fumble! I quickly looked up and saw the football rolling away from me. J.K was first to reach the ball. He scooped it up and began running towards our opponent's end zone. There wasn't anybody even near him and he easily ran the fumble back into their end zone for a touchdown. We went up, 27-21. Our defense ran over to J.K and lifted him into the air in celebration. I ran over to join them but they quickly ran off to out sidelines to continue the celebration without me. Why was I surprised?

Our team kicked in the extra point after the touchdown making the score 28-21 with only eleven seconds left in the game. Our team punted the ball. They returned the ball to their own 33rd yard line. Our defense took the field one last time as the the opposing team tried a desperate Hail Mary pass. I knocked the ball down once again and the game ended with the clock reaching zero. We won. Our entire team charged onto the field in celebration as the opposing team slunk off the field in defeat. The home fans sat back into their seats in bitter disappointment. They booed us as we celebrated, or I should say they did. My teammates were happy and joyous. They didn't like me. Simple as that. I would only bring them down. I was used to it by now.

So I removed my helmet and walked over to our bench. My sweat covered, medium length, stringy, dark brown hair, was plastered across my face and head. Our very empty bench. Why would anyone be on the bench when they just won the biggest game of the season so far? Well, anybody besides me that is. I watched the other players and cheerleaders celebrate. I watched them with my eyes. My crimson eyes. Yeah, crimson. It was unusual. One reason why I was chastised by my schoolmates.

The other reason I was picked on, being that I live in a dump. No, that wasn't a description of a crappy house I live in or anything . It was a very literal dump. A garbage dump. Well, I didn't live in the dump exactly but it was more of the building near the entrance of the dump. And it was on dump property.

I had a summer job and everything so it wasn't like I wore raged and out of date clothing. I bought my own. There was even a gym nearby that I bought a subscription to just so I could use the showers in the morning and store my clothing in my locker. So I didn't smell like the dump or anything. I didn't act poor and I didn't smell. But it didn't matter. I was a teenager living in a literal garbage dump and had freakish eyes. So I was the butt on many jokes and pranks. The good news was that whenever a new kid moved in they would be the target of the jokes and take the load off my back. Only for a few days though. Then it was back to me again. Oh well.

It wasn't so bad before a year ago. Last year is when it really got terrible. You see it was Halloween and the then head cheerleader decided for her costume she would dress as me. Red contact lenses and hobo like clothing. That was when I go the nickname, Bloodshot Bum. BSB for short. She came up with the name due to my red eyes. Like being bloodshot from being drunk or high or something. The bum part because well, I was living in a dump. BSB.

Oh boy, did that name stick. You can bet I wanted to retaliate. I was taught better though. I wanted revenge but I never did anything about it. Turns out I didn't have to. I don't believe much in karma but ten months later she wound up giving birth to twins... at the age of seventeen. Teen pregnancy wasn't a laughing matter... but for me, this time, it was a chuckling matter.

At first I thought she ruined her life but maybe it changed her for the best. Just two weeks ago she sat down with me at lunch, nobody ever sat with me at lunch after that Halloween and even before then, not so much. She sat with me and asked for forgiveness. I was taken completely off guard. I was a nice guy and forgave her. She put me through allot but I wouldn't hold it against her if she was sorry about it. Sometimes people make stupid mistakes. She was proof of that in more ways than one. Then I asked for her forgiveness for chuckling when I heard she was preggers with twins. She did. We were actually getting to be friends, my only friend my own age, until she moved to a place where it would be easier to raise her twins with her parents. Oh well. I think we both learned allot from each other. Live and learn.

I reached over and grabbed a paper cup of generic energy drink, generic cherry flavor, and took a few gulps just as Coach Gardiner, my head coach, left the celebration on the field and joined me for a sit on the bench. He patted me on the back and gave me some words of encouragement, "Well done, kiddo. I know it hasn't been easy. Yet, you continue to play as though you had the full support of your team. You are mature beyond your years."

I stared that nearly bald headed man in the eyes and smiled, "Thanks coach. You say this to me like it's the end of the season. This is only the third game. We got games left!"

He laughed as he pat me on the back again. Then stood up and began walking back to the locker rooms. He shouted back to me without turning his head backward, "True. Hit the showers and get some sleep! Practice is in three days. You better be ready, grunt!"

I laughed whenever he called us grunts. He sometimes went into the boot camp, army instructor mode where he tried acting all touch and called us "grunts", "pukes", and "maggots". He wasn't very good at it though. He was just too nice to be tough. As I watched him walk back I noticed someone standing in the shadows of the home bleachers.

The person was an old man in a large, brown, overcoat. He had full white hair tied back into a ponytail and a gray goatee. He looked light hearted and friendly, but tough and rugged at the same time. He was munching down on a hot dog. He must have been at least seventy years old but had the physique of a forty year old. I smiled when I saw him.

I stood up and walked over to join him under the bleacher. When I came face to face with him I put my hands on my hips and grinned, "What are you doing here old man?"

He didn't answer right away. He waited until he finished his hot dog and then wiped any ketchup off his chin onto the sleeve of his coat. He then tossed his wrapper into a nearby trash can. He matched me by putting his hands on his hips and grinned right back, "I took a bus. Got a problem with that, Roan?"

Ugh, yeah. My name is Roan. Full name, Roan Annar Corbank. I think it's Norse or something. It's weird, I know. "Checking up on me?" I asked.

"I can't enjoy one of your games?" He asked right back. He didn't really give me a chance to answer back though as he kept talking, "Good call on the blitz rush at the end there. It won the game."

"Thanks. Though it wasn't really difficult. The quarterback had a terrible pokerface."

"Don't sell yourself short. You read him well. Just like a soldier in combat."

I rolled me eyes. It was always combat references with this guy. This guy was my legal guardian as I was an orphan. My parents died long ago. I don't remember anything about them. The only thing I do know is that this man, Tadmor Rorth, was an old friend of the family. I know, Tadmor Rorth was an odd name. Who was I to comment about somebody else's name though?

...ANYWAYS, he was poor and lived in a garbage dump. I lived there with him. He was always trying to teach me how to be a better person and also training. Always with the training. Football, fighting, agility, strength training, all of it. Meh, it wasn't like I had anything better to do. He was just a very protective man. He was the reason why I would call myself more mature than others my age. He forced me to be so.

He was very jovial and very open but at the same time I could tell he was always thinking of something else. Something he didn't want to, or couldn't tell me. Something that was big enough to be on his mind at every moment. I wasn't sure about his past and I never asked but I'm sure he'd seen some things. Maybe he was a war veteran. Maybe that was the reason for his battle references. I dunno. As much as I wanted to know, I knew I shouldn't ask him. If I wanted I'm sure I could Google his name and find out everything about him. Maybe an ex-army general? But I didn't because if he wanted me to know, he'd tell me.

I respected pretty much everything I knew about him. The thing I respected the most was the fact that he was fully dedicated to raising me right. There were dozens of times that child services wanted to remove me from him and the dump. Understandable. At times when I was younger I even wanted to be removed. I didn't want anything to do with him or the garbage dump. Now I look back and regret ever thinking that. I don't know how he kept custody of me, but he did it somehow. And even though we live in a dump he gave me everything I needed to live. Even if he had to take scraps and trash and build it for me.

He was also the one who convinced me to become a middle linebacker when I wanted to be either a quarterback or wide receiver. He lectured me on why football was like combat and how I should always think about defense and how I should always let the other make the first move. Then you react, stop, and counter their attack. I dunno. I figured that he wouldn't give up his lecturing argument so no matter how much I wanted to shout at him that football wasn't combat, and that I wanted to play quarterback or wide receiver, I listened and became a very accomplished linebacker. He was right. He was my strong uncle like figure, plain and simple.

Tadmor, or Tad as I called him pointed towards the locker room, "You should wash up. I'll meet you back home alright, Roan?"

"Alright."

As I turned to walk away he grabbed my shoulder pad firmly, "I'm proud of you mi'boy."

I smiled and shooed his hand off my shoulder, "Thanks, pops. Couldn't have done it without you."

__-V-__

I sat back at my home, the dump, watching our large flat screen, HD TV. Yeah, HD! You'd be surprised what some people throw out and what Tad can easily fix up. Another mystery about Tad is how he learned to fix and build all kinds of crap. Pretty handy. Really though our home wasn't too bad at all. Once you got used to the smell. The part of the building we lived in, near the dump, was allot like a large studio apartment. The room was once a garage and storage room. Now it was hallowed out for us to live in. We had two beds, a sofa, a refrigerator, a table, a TV, and a punching bag all fit into the room. Yeah, a punching bag. Training and all that.

We also had a bathroom with a toilet and sink, but no shower. That was why we had a subscription to the local gym. Just to shower. We didn't even work out there. Tad had built our own work out equipment in the dump and we worked out there. So yeah, that was kind of sad. Oh well, we had the TV and free hacked cable which was nice.

I sat at the sofa watching The Simpsons and sipping down some Dew. Sure it was midnight and caffeine wasn't what I needed to help me sleep but I was still too pumped up from the game to sleep anyways. Tomorrow was Saturday anyways. I could sleep late. Tad on the other hand was in a deep sleep. Even with the TV on in the same room he could sleep without waking up.

I was busy watching Homer make a fool out of himself when I heard the door to the building's shop open. I looked back through a window that faced into the shop. I saw a man in blue overalls walk into the shop and then locked the door behind him. He saw me and waved at me through the window. I waved back. His name is Jacob Nicks. He is the owner of the dump and he is the one who lets us live here, rent free. I guess he is old pals with Tad or something. He also has a past he doesn't want to talk about. Probably the same one Tad doesn't like to talk about. Maybe old war comrades? Again, I dunno.

I think he said he was fifty years old. He looks like thirty-five at most. He has dark skin and very short, dark hair. He is tall too. Maybe 6' 7" at least. He had a very athletic build. I don't know why he worked at a dump. He was smart and athletic, it didn't make sense. It couldn't be because he loved his job. 'Guardian of the trash', isn't very glamorous. Not that I'm complaining. I don't know where Tad and I would be without him. Plus he also tries to push me and give me guidance just like Tad.

He walked into our house/garage and walked over to me. He smiled as he leaned over onto the back of the sofa. He spoke with clear English now, but he didn't always used too. He used to speak with a heavy accent. A very heavy accent. It wasn't like any accent I've ever heard before. Almost otherworldly if that makes any sense.

He ginned from ear to ear as he spoke to me, "So I hear you won the big game."

"Big game?" I repeated, "Just a rivalry. We'll see how far we go. The big game could be in the off season."

"True. Buuuuuut" He said, "Getting a little ahead of yourself though, don't you think?"

"I'm just saying. There could be bigger games." I said simply, "What are you doing here this late? Or early I should say."

"I have something I need to talk over with Tad." he said as he began walking towards the sleeping, older man. Another secretive talk. They had these weird talks every couple of weeks. I had no idea what they were about and they never told me. Even when I asked, they would change the subject. "How is the weather?", Was there favorite topic to change to.

Jacob, or Jake, slapped Tad right in his face to wake him up. Hard too. Probably because that was about the only thing that would wake him from his slumber. I knew that it wasn't' east to wake Tad. Tad grumbled as he sat up and looked up at Jake. He wasn't drowsy at all. He was actually quite aware. He patted Jake on the arm, "Is it time again?"

"Yup." He said as he walked away and out of our home. Tad looked at me before getting out of bed and fallowed him out. Leaving me alone. Watching The Simpsons. Oh wait, that show ended. Now it was an infomercial. Oh well. I flipped the TV off and decided that I should probably head to bed. Even if I couldn't sleep. I should at least try.

__-V-__

When I awoke I found myself in an empty room. Neither Tad nor Jake were here. Oh well. I guess I'd just spend the day by myself. That didn't happen very often. I should take advantage of it while I can. So I quick toasted a waffle, got dressed in a blue British flag t-shirt (I'm not British but it was on sale), and dark gray cargo pants, and then hit the road. I jogged over to the gym and hit the showers. Then... off to the arcade!

I took two summer jobs so I could have money to spend during the rest of the year. I don't know why Tad didn't get a job, ever, but again that was one of those things I didn't ask. So I had plenty of money to waste at the arcade. I spent the rest of the morning chompin' down nachos and crushing little kids at Tekken. Kuma Jr. owns!

After giving my thumbs a workout on video games it was still only noon. The draw backs of not having any friends was that you had nothing to do on the weekends... Other than training with Tad... meh. That was fine for weekdays, but weekends were supposed to be a break from the hustle of life. So I took a stroll down to downtown Smithsville to see if there were any cool shops or anything. I had never really been to the trendy stores of downtown before. And I ended up regretting that I had even come here because stepping out of a trendy clothing store was J.K, my teammate. The guy who stole the show (from me) last night. With him was a couple of our teammates who acted like his goons. Fallowing every word he said like sheep. There was also the new head cheerleader with her arm crossed with his. The gang was all there.

Since I didn't feel like being picked on I ducked into the closet store to hide from them. When I walked into the store I saw shelves of curry, noodles, spices, cans, certain types of veggies and meats, as well as Asian cooking utensils. I was in an Asian food supply store. There were many signs and labels in both English and other Asian languages like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Indian, and others. Behind the counter was a familiar face. I didn't know her name but I recognized her face from school. She was a Japanese girl. She was talking on her cell phone and didn't notice me come in.

J.K and his group were walking by the shop window so I quick ducked behind a rack of ramen noodles and waited for them to pass by. I was staring at the back of a pack on ramen noodles. The language on the package was in English and some other Asian language I was unsure about. It must have been a trick of my eyes but for a second I thought the Asian language morphed into English and I could read it. It must have just my eyes playing tricks on me. I was just reading the English part and my brain thought it was something else. That was all.

When they passed by I popped my head back up. The girl finally noticed me and spoke to her friend on the other end of the phone call, "I got to go. That freaky kid from school, you know, bloodshot bum just walked in."

I glared over to her and forced a chuckle, "You know. I am standing right here. Geez, you people with the constant-"

She winced as she flipped her cell phone off and tried to smile at me, "I'm sorry. I had no idea you could understand Japanese."

I cocked my head to the side and raised an eyebrow, "Wha? I don't. What are you talking about?"

She looked up at the ceiling, just as confused as I was, "Oh... umm... What?"

I pointed my finger at her and scolded her, "Some nerve!" I then pointed to a pack of generic noddles that you could get at any gas station, "And how dare you! This isn't even authentic Asian cuisine!"

The last part was just a joke. Although it is true. That really isn't authentic Asian food. I just wanted to make some point. I'm not even sure what point I was trying to make other than I was upset. I walked out of the shop and back into the streets of downtown Smithsville. Okay, now what? I figured I'd just spend the rest of the day, bummin' around... Wait, bad choice of words.

__-V-__

It was Saturday night and I was at home, watching TV. I spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the trendy stores of downtown but I didn't buy anything. I didn't have that kind of money. I was flipping through the channels on the tube. There was Cops and a guy in a ladies dress getting arrested, an anime about some dude with a sword, racquetball on ESPN 7 or 8 or something like that, CNN, meh. I finally found a lowbrow comedy staring some guy I've never seen or heard of before. It was cheep laughter but I was in the mood for cheep stupid laughter.

I laughed when some guy fell down the stairs into his daughter's wedding cake. It was so corny and unfunny... I had to laugh at it. Tad and Jake came walking in a moment later. They were gone all day. I wasn't even going to ask what they were doing all day long. Wasn't my business. I laughed again when the daughter slapped her father in the face for ruining her wedding. Poor schmuck. Tad took a seat at what was our kitchen table as Jake came over and gave me an odd look, "What are you watching?"

"I know it's stupid but... It's awesome." Was all I could say as the daughter then got made at her new husband and pushed him into what remained of the wedding cake. It was so awful, it was priceless. That was just the mood I was in.

Tad shot me a stern glance. He seemed a little agitated, "Did you do your chores yet?"

By chores he was asking if I had trained outside in his homemade obstacle course and gym. I sighed and stood up from my seat. I sighed once again just to emphasize my frustration. I began walking towards the exit when Jake picked up the TV remote and shouted for me to stop. I did. He looked at me quizzically and asked, "How is your Spanish class going."

I was taken aback by the question. I took a step back and shrugged my shoulders, "Uhh... well. I'm failing. I'm struggling to get a D."

"So you can't understand much of any Spanish what-so-ever?" He asked.

I nodded, "Well, yeah. I guess so. Why?"

He shook his head and waved his hand for me to leave. So I did.

--V--

While Roan was busy training in the back, Jake stared down at the TV remote like it was made of solid gold. Tad stood up, alert that something was wrong. He asked Jake, "What's wrong?"

Jake laughed softly as he held the remote up for Tad to see. At first Tad didn't notice anything odd. That was until Jake pointed to a red light that was on. Jake fell back into his seat, seeing the light. They both knew what it meant. Roan said he couldn't understand Spanish, yet on the remote, the SAP, or secondary audio programing button was on. The TV show that Roan was watching was being broadcast in Spanish the whole time. Roan didn't know it, but he was listening to a Spanish voice over and he understood every word they said. It was something they knew was coming at some point but they didn't except it to come so soon. It was time Roan was told the truth.