Home > The Serpent King(11)

The Serpent King(11)
Jeff Zentner

“I guess I’ll see.”

His father gave a disdainful snort. “You guess you’ll see.” He leaned forward and spun the plate of wing bones onto the coffee table. “And then what? After you graduate? Join the Marines like Matt?”

Another pang, sharper still. Because that turned out well for Matt. “I haven’t thought about it. Keep working at the lumberyard I guess.”

“You might ought to think about enlisting. Make a man of you. We could hire to fill your position easy.”

“I’ll think about it.” There was silence as his father returned his attention to the game. Travis stood for a second, watching him, the TV reflected in his father’s eyes. He hoped that if he waited for a second or two more, his father would offer some words of encouragement or wisdom for the start of school; that he would say something that let Travis know he believed in him. Like Matt used to do.

Just a stifled burp. Travis started once more toward his room.

“Tell you a story,” his father said, not taking his eyes off the TV. Travis’s heart leapt with hope.

His father sipped his beer. “Was dropping off this load of two-by-fours where they was adding on to a church. Anyway, this church had a little pond out front and there was these little ducks and a big-ass turkey, all hanging out together, happy as you please.”

Travis forced a laugh. Best to humor him when he was in storytelling mode. “Yeah, that’s pretty funny.” Not the words of encouragement he hoped for, but better than nothing. Maybe.

His father fixed his glassy eyes on him. Then back on the TV. “Anyhow, that’s what you remind me of, hanging out with that son of the Pervert Preacher and your dyke friend. That big-ass turkey, thinking he’s a duck.”

Travis stood there and let the barb sink in, feeling deflated. He waited for his father to say just kidding or explain why he thought turkeys were great. Maybe at least wish him luck at school tomorrow. Nothing. Just the reflection of the TV in his eyes. So much for words of encouragement. There went a damn fine day.

He went into his room and shut the door, resting his staff behind it. He sat down at his cheap, Walmart pressed-board desk and turned on his nine-year-old laptop—a hand-me-down from his brother Matt. The fan whined as he navigated his way to the Bloodfall forums. He typed in his username, Southern_Northbrook, and settled into a spirited debate about the forthcoming Deathstorm, the sixth and final book in the Bloodfall series, due out in March of the following year.

He tilted back in his chair and surveyed his legion of digital friends—invented names, profile pictures of cartoon characters or frowning cats. He was glad to have them. As he scrolled through the forums, clicking on threads, a little pop-up window appeared at the top of his screen. A direct message. His heart galloped. He opened it. It was from exactly whom he hoped: autumnlands. He didn’t know much about autumnlands, just that she was around his age and that she lived near Birmingham, Alabama. They had just started direct messaging a week ago, after Travis had come to her defense in a heated argument over whether The Accursed were undead humans or something else entirely.

autumnlands: Hey what’s up?

Southern_Northbrook: Nothing much just hanging out. What’s up with you?

autumnlands: Just hanging out too. Loved your theory about Norrell Bayne being the real son of Torren Winterend.

Travis bounced in his chair and typed. I wish I was the real son of Torren Winterend because he’s probably way cooler than my dad LOL.

autumnlands: Ugh I totally know what you mean. My dad acts so douchey sometimes. He’s literally on my case all the time about stupid stuff.

Southern_Northbrook: Yeah my dad was just blabbing about me going out for football when school starts tomorrow. I hate football. Compared me to my brother. I hate it when he does that.

autumnlands: My parents are always comparing me to my perfect younger sister. It’s the worst. And your school hasn’t started yet??? No fair mine started last week!!!!

Southern_Northbrook: Maybe you should move here LOL.

Travis blushed as soon as he hit “send.”

autumnlands: Ok I will but you have to promise to sit with me at lunch.

Travis felt warm all over. He was starting to compose his reply when a knock startled him. He prayed it wasn’t his father. Not that his father felt like he had to knock to go anywhere he wanted in the house. “Come in,” he called.

His mom entered, holding a brown paper bag. She closed the door behind her.

“Hey, sweetie. I was at the grocery today and I picked you up a little something as a back-to-school present.” She handed Travis the paper bag. “It’s not much.”

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