Home > The Serpent King(12)

The Serpent King(12)
Jeff Zentner

He opened the bag. It contained a paperback entitled The Rebel Knight. On the cover was a chiseled, grim-looking man with long, black hair; a five o’clock shadow; and a tunic open to reveal bronzed pecs. He had a sword in one hand and a shield in the other. Travis had a pretty good idea of the sort of book he was holding.

“Oh man, thanks, Mom!” he said, as convincingly as he could. “This looks awesome!”

Travis’s mom looked pleased. “I know how you like to read about knights and things like that. I thought maybe you hadn’t read that one.”

“No,” he said softly, leafing through the book. “I haven’t read this one.”

“Your dad means well,” she said.

Travis stared at the book, hefting it in his hands. “I wish he was better at meaning well.”

“Me too sometimes. Anyway. I’ll let you get back to what you were doing.” She leaned forward, hugged him, and kissed his cheek. “Have a great first day of school tomorrow. I love you.”

“I love you too, Mom.”

After she left and closed the door behind her, Travis shook his head and tossed the book on his bed. This wasn’t the first time. In fact, Travis had a respectable collection of steamy medieval romance novels under his bed. But he couldn’t bear to tell her.

Another message from autumnlands popped up. Ok I guess you won’t sit with me at lunch. Boo.

Southern_Northbrook: No no of course I’d sit with you at lunch LOL. Sorry my mom came in and I was talking to her.

autumnlands: Yay! Because I usually eat lunch alone. I don’t have very many friends at my dumb school. No one likes Bloodfall.

Southern_Northbrook: I totally know what you mean. I have two awesome friends but even they don’t get Bloodfall.

autumnlands: If we’re going to sit together at lunch I guess I better learn your real name. Mine’s Amelia.

Southern_Northbrook: I like the name Amelia. My name’s Travis.

autumnlands: Good to meet you Travis.

Southern_Northbrook: Good to meet you Amelia.

His heart beat the syllables of her name. A-mel-ia. While she was composing her reply, Travis got up, paced around quickly, picked up his staff, and twirled it around his head as best he could in the confined space of his room, watching himself in the mirror.

Dill hated going back into his house after hanging out with Lydia. It was like waking up from a euphoric dream. His house was still and suffocating when he opened the door. He set his CD on the kitchen table and considered the possibilities for dinner. They weren’t promising. He improvised a casserole with a couple of dented cans of green beans, a couple of dented cans of cream of mushroom soup, and a block of expired cheese—all freebies from his job bagging groceries and stocking shelves at Floyd’s Foods.

He threw the sad concoction in the oven, went and plugged in the air conditioner, and began playing his guitar, working on a new song that no one would ever hear. One about endings. One about people leaving you behind.

At around 8:45, Dill heard his mother clatter up the driveway in their 1992 Chevy Cavalier and come in the house. She exuded fatigue.

“How was work?”

“I’m tired. I had to turn away about twenty kids your age trying to buy beer.”

She flopped down with a soft groan in their battered recliner and rubbed her face.

“Did you take your pills for your back?” Dill asked.

“Ran out. Can’t refill until payday.”

Dill returned to the kitchen and checked on the casserole.

“Dinner’s done,” he called out to the living room.

Dill’s mother sucked in her breath and rose from the recliner, holding her mid-back, taking a moment to straighten, and grunting with pain. She entered the kitchen and sat at the table. She picked up Dill’s CD.

“What’s Joy Division and New Order?”

Shit. Dill had a peculiar genius, honed over his years of friendship with Lydia, at turning any band into a Christian band on the spot. Arcade Fire? Refers to the fires of hell that those who forsake Christ in favor of video games will experience. Fleet Foxes? Refers to the Bible story in which Samson captured foxes, tied torches to their tails, and let them burn the fields of the Philistines. Radiohead? Refers to how human minds have to be living conduits to the Holy Spirit, akin to radio antennas.

“Oh…New Order…refers to the new order that Christ will create when he returns to Earth and reigns…Joy Division…refers to the division in joy between people who’ve been saved and people who haven’t. They’re Christian bands.”

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