Read the First 14 Pages of Theresa Sneed’s Novel, Elias of Elderberry

Author Theresa Sneed posts 14 pages of Elias of Elderberry. Enjoy!

Eliasfrontcover2Elias Rey sat in the middle of the classroom at Penquis Valley High. Having finished the assignment early, he had nothing better to do than stare at Baylee’s long, blonde hair and wonder how it would feel to run his fingers through it. He caught himself and refocused, pulling out the drawing he’d been working on—dragons were his specialty. Within seconds, he was so caught up in his latest rendition, that he didn’t hear his teacher.

“Elias!” Ms. Ziegler’s sharp voice brought him back. “This is the second time I have asked you  to come here.” A few students snickered.

Elias pulled himself up and walked toward the front of the room. From the corner of his eye, he saw Brute stick his foot out. He rolled his eyes and  stepped over it. “Idiot,” he muttered under his breath. He regretted it immediately when The Brute, as everyone called him, pushed him from behind. He landed on the floor with a thud.

It was always the same. Though Brute had the IQ of a lizard; he was quick to strike when the teacher had her back to him. His taunting glare said, talk and you die. Not that Elias would have ratted on him anyhow, but he would have given him a great comeback, if it hadn’t been for Baylee—the cutest girl in the school. She sat in front of both of them and was now staring at Elias. He didn’t know what came over him. He never spoke to girls, unless they spoke first. He leaned back on his elbows on the floor. “Hi Baylee,” he said and gave her his best smile—the one that started at one corner of his mouth and swept slowly across to the other side—smooth, like in the movies.

It was as if the whole class was shocked by the sound of his voice. He was shocked too, after all, Baylee was Brute’s girlfriend. But nothing could have surprised Elias more than what she did. She got up and walked past Brute slapping him on the head, then bent down and offered Elias her hand.

“Hi Elias.”  She smiled, pulled him up, and then held his hand a little longer than expected.

“Hi,” he repeated, feeling beads of sweat gather on his forehead. Was she trying to get him killed? He could feel the steam coming off The Brute and could see his large hands balled up in fists on the top of his desk.

Ms. Ziegler frowned at Brute then handed Elias a piece of paper. “Take this upstairs to Mrs. Abney’s room.”

“Yeah, sure thing.”  He’d be happy to—in fact, maybe he’d take the long way around and catch the bell for the next class before he got back, if he was lucky enough.

Elias stepped into the empty corridor, his footsteps making muffled thuds against the tiled floor. He was so dead the next time Brute saw him—maybe he could fain an illness until Brute graduated from high school. That could be a long time. Eliassmirked, in spite of his impending fate.

All at once, the air chilled. His gaze rose to the windows on either side of the hallway—darkening, as if a storm had swallowed the school. “Creepy,” he muttered, but not as creepy as the sudden puff of cold air that whizzed past his bare arms.

“Eliiiias!” A strange voice pierced the silence, pricking the hair on the back of his neck.He froze as the garbled words continued—“Destroy them! Destroy Ilesar and Ilzar!”

Elias spun around. “Yikes!” He jumped back. The hallway was no longer empty. A boy with pale skin and deep-set eyes stood behind him, so close that Elias could feel his panted breath and see the fear in his eyes. “Who are you? What do you want?”

The boy thrust a leather pouch toward him. Elias pushed it back. “I don’t want that!”

Suddenly, the boy’s skinny body jerked, and the leather pouch fell to the floor, as a thin, white cord gathered around his waist and yanked him backwards down the hall. Panic gripped the boy’s face as he desperately reached for Elias. “DESTROY THEM!”

The 5th hour bell rang. Doors up and down the corridor opened, releasing a noisy throng of students into the hallway. In seconds, the boy was out of sight, but the pouch still lay at Elias’ feet. He grabbed at a tuft of his hair and stared in the direction he’d last seen the boy. What the heck is going on? Was this some kind of a trick? His heart pounded in his chest. All at once, it hit him. Of course! The drama department—they must be preparing for a show!

He snatched the pouch up. The drama department was at the end of the hallway. Elias grinned. Dang! That boy is good! He really had me going there! “Hey, Mr. Arnold!” Elias stuck his head into the office.

“Yes, Elias?” Mr. Arnold’s beady eyes peered at him over half moon spectacles that looked as if they’d slip off his nose.

“Yeah well, just wanted to congratulate you on whatever it is you guys are working on. Whoever that boy was with the pouch—” He held it up. “Well, he’s pretty convincing—good job!”

Mr. Arnold looked at him like he didn’t know what he was talking about.

“You know—Ooooo-OOoo.” Elias made a ghostly sound and wiggled his fingers in the air. “He looked pretty freaky, sir.”

Mr. Arnold leaned back and stroked his goatee.   “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Elias—none whatsoever.”

“Huh.” Elias turned the pouch over in his hands. “Yeah, well—okay.” He thanked him and went back into the hallway.

Who was that boy? If he hadn’t been part of any theater production at the school—what kind of performance was he in? He nodded as he remembered the white cord tugging at the boy—great special effects. Destroy them, the boy had said. Elias shrugged. His gaze fell to the pouch. What was in it? He started to open it, but thought better and glanced around for a more secluded place to explore its contents.

What better place than the boy’s bathroom? He slipped through the door and then into an empty stall. He studied the brown leather bag holding it closer to his face. The gold band that ran diagonally up its sides was made to look like a snake—its diamond-shaped head brandishing two tiny, red jewels. Elias brushed his fingers over the thin band and a wisp of smoke rose from it. He coughed and swept his hand through the gray mist—must have been dust.

All of a sudden, the bathroom door banged open and Brute’s voice broke the silence. “Hey zit-face! I know you’re in here!”

Oh crap. Of all the places for Brute to find him—defenseless—with no one to stop the Brute from beating him senseless, or even to identify Elias’ lifeless body later. He rolled his eyes. Okay, that was a bit melodramatic. He’d been hanging around his foster sister, Lizzie too long. Drama was her thing—not his.

The stall doors slammed against their hinges one by one—closer and closer. He let out a groan, as he saw Brute’s size twelve shoes in front of the stall next to his. He swallowed hard and breathed out slow. “I wish I was home.” A warm buzz came from the pouch, and he glanced down as it came to life—casting an eerie glow against the stall door. Then all at once, a steely flash of red light cruelly stung his skin, deep into his sinewy flesh, as a powerful force twisted him through an opening—a thin slit in the air.

 

In an instant, Elias stood in his bedroom at 1228 Elderberry Street. He jumped back and looked around in fright, flinging the pouch on his bed. “Whoa! How did I get HERE? He backed up tight against the wall, his mind shooting from thought to thought—he was in the boy’s bathroom at Penquis, and now he was in his bedroom?

Am I dreaming? I must be dreaming—yeah, that’s it. But the memories of morning and earlier classes told him otherwise. How can this be? He studied the pouch from a distance then grabbed his baseball bat and took a quick jab at it. It rolled over releasing an eerie, silver-white smoke that billowed and twisted into the air. It wreathed itself around Elias’ body like a chain wrapped around a criminal—or a victim.

“AHHH!” Elias jerked, and the bat hit the pouch, knocking it to the floor. A loosely wrapped papyrus slipped out and rolled to a stop at his feet. His breath came out short and swift, as he nudged it with his shoe. With the tip of a mechanical pencil, he cautiously picked a corner of it up, peering down through the rolled up shaft. It’s just paper. He let out a quick breath and sank back against the wall, slipping to the floor.

He stayed like that for several minutes—just staring and wondering. Maybe he was going crazy, like his great uncle Harvey—could fifteen year olds get dementia?

The papyrus looked harmless enough. Elias got up on his knees and bent forward to take a closer look at the strange writings sprawled across its weathered insides.

The keeper of Ilesar is the keeper of great power.

He felt a chill as he remembered the boy’s urgent warning to destroy Ilesar—was this Ilesar? He rubbed his throbbing head with his fingertips. “Great power—” Elias barely whispered, as the parchment quivered in his shaking hands.

He heard the front door open and his foster father Clint Weston call out, “Elias? Are you home?” Elias slipped the papyrus back in its pouch and slid it under his bed.        Clint hurried up the stairs and into his room. His lips turned down in a frown. “Elias. Why aren’t you in school? Mr. Palmer called saying you were missing from your 5th hour class.”

“I felt sick, so I came home.” That was true—the sick part and the home part.

“It’s not like you to skip out without telling anyone.” He placed his hand on Elias’ head. “You are a little warm—why don’t you lie down.  I’ll call the school and bring you up a glass of water.” He patted him on the foot and left.

Elias leaned over the side of his bed and stared at the pouch. He pulled it out. Should I show this to Dad? It made all the sense in the world to tell him about the bizarre events of the day, and yet, even as he struggled with what to say, he knew he couldn’t. It was too weird, and he was really curious.He slipped off his bed and opened the bottom drawer of his dresser, pushing the pouch under a pile of boxers and socks. He heard his dad coming up the steps and flung himself back on the bed.

“Here, take this.” He gave him a drink then gestured to his mouth with a thermometer. “Open up.”  Clint placed the thermometer under his tongue. Elias glanced at the dresser. He had forgotten to close the drawer and a strange red light glowed from beneath the socks. His eyes popped open.

“What’s the matter?”

His mind raced as he tried to think of a way to distract his dad. He pointed to his nose. “I need a tissue.” As soon as his dad left the room, Elias jumped out of bed and closed the drawer. He landed back on his bed as Clint came through the doorway with a box of tissues.

“Here you go.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Elias smiled faintly. His body quivered with strange excitement. What am I doing? I should just tell him right now! “Dad?”

“What is it?”

“I, uh,” he hesitated, stumbling over his words. Elias looked at the dresser then up at his dad, and then back at the dresser. His eyes lingered on the bottom drawer. “Never mind.”

The evening drew on, and one by one his parents and sister went to bed. Elias stared up at the glow-in-the-dark constellation dimly illuminated on his bedroom ceiling. The planets and stars had been important to him once, like old friends. He spent hours wondering if other people or life existed on them. It was a silly thought—but consistent. Maybe that’s why he’d never taken the time to peel them off now that he was older.

His gaze fell upon the plethora of drawings of dragons scattered across his walls—another childhood obsession. Or was it, he thought? Why would he ever have to give up his love for dragons? It was such a shame that they weren’t real—how cool that would be. He yawned and fell asleep.

It spread its massive wings and dropped, soaring down, circling the fourteen small orbs that hovered above the boy. Beams of light shot down from the orbs onto others who slept silently on small beds, and when the strange light hit them, they vanished.

 Two

Elias awoke with a start and sat straight up in bed. It was five a.m., too early to get up. He thought back to the odd dream of beams of light and small beds. He’d dreamt it so many times, it didn’t bother him much anymore, all except for the dragon part, that was new, and pretty cool, he thought. But still he wondered if anyone else had reoccurring dreams—if that was somehow normal. Normal? Will you listen to yourself? He grumbled. With the events of yesterday, the transport from Penquis to home, the glowing papyrus and the strange words etched on it—nothing was normal. He crawled out of bed, turned on a small desk lamp, and carefully reached for the papyrus.

The keeper of Ilesar is the keeper of great power.

His hands shook, as he held the ancient writings closer to the lamp. “I wonder what that means.” But as he gazed down on the ancient characters—the words disappeared into the parchment like quicksand and new ones rose in their place.

“What?” He dropped the papyrus and stumbled backwards. “I’m tired—yeah, that’s it—tired.” He bent over the parchment and gulped.

Elias of Elderberry, do you have a question for me?

“Yikes!” Elias pushed himself away and fell backwards, tripping over a basketball and knocking down the lamp. He lay there still—a sinking sensation swirling in the pit of his stomach. He cleared his throat. “What is happening to me! Am I … crazy?”

Slowly, new words appeared on the papyrus.

No, you’re not crazy, Elias of Elderberry,

Just very fortunate

Elias let out a long, slow breath. “I’m dreaming—this is just a dream.”

Not a dream, Elias of Elderberry

And fortunate you are to have come to possess me,

For I can give you anything you desire—

Anything, Elias of Elderberry

“Anything?”

Anything. You have but to ask.

Elias rolled his eyes. As if a paper could give him anything. Still, he glanced around at his drawings of dragons. The blue hatchling caught his eye—easy enough to hold in the palm of his hand or carry in his backpack. This is so ridiculous, he thought, but oh well, the words on the papyrus did say he had but to ask. “Yeah,” he said, “okay, I want that one.” He pointed to the blue hatchling. “Oh, and I’m hungry. Get me the best pizza around,” he demanded half-jokingly, but when he turned to face the papyrus, it wasn’t there. The leather pouch was neatly tucked under his arm, and he was sitting in an Italian restaurant with a Pizza Romana in front of him.

“WHAT!” Elias jumped up suddenly. The papyrus bounced to the floor then slid under the table, as a waiter rushed to his side.

“E ‘tutto bene, signore?”

Elias’ mind was in a rush. Where was he? What was this waiter’s strange dialect? He glanced down at a newspaper left on the table by the pizza, and gasped. La Repubblica, edizione di Repubblica Roma.  What?  He pulled at the tuffs of hair on his head. YIKES! There was no way—he could not be in Rome!

The waiter repeated himself, “E ‘tutto bene, signore?”

What? “NO! I am not okay!” He whirled around, surveying his surroundings, “I mean, yes—I mean, NO!”

Elias’ heart pounded like a hundred angry drummers. He stared at the end of the pouch sticking innocently out from under the table. He jammed his shaking hands into his arm pits and nodded the waiter off, and then quickly glanced at the others who had returned to eating. With cold, clammy hands, he bent down and picked up the leather pouch.

He sank into the seat, nervously turning the pouch over in his hands. His breath caught in his throat—something was missing—the gold band. It must have fallen off when the pouch hit the floor. He peered under the table, and then jumped back slamming his head into the underside, nearly knocking it over, as the golden snake slithered over his shoe, and then slowly climbed his leg. He couldn’t breathe, as he felt the snake continue up his torso and around his neck. It hissed into his ear.

I am Ilzar.

 He felt it slither around the back of his neck then hiss in his other ear.

 Are you not pleased?

 “YIKES!” Elias jumped up again and grabbed at his neck. The thin snake slithered down his arm and back around the leather pouch.

The waiter quickly returned. “Ti senti bene, signore?”

“I’m not sure. I think I feel—sick.”

The snake hissed from below,

You do look nauseated.

 “What do I do now?” he muttered.

You eat the pizza.

Of course that would made sense, if it wasn’t coming from a piece of golden jewelry, and if he wasn’t sitting in a foreign country halfway across the world.

Nonetheless, the sweet aroma of freshly baked crust, pepperoni, and Italian seasonings tantalized his senses. He tore into the pizza like a beast who had not eaten for days. In fact, he felt like a beast and was unnerved by the strange sensation.

He was keenly aware that it was barely 5:30 a.m. back in Maine, and strangely pleased that his parents would have no idea where he was if they ventured to check his room.  His gaze fell to the snake. It was totally awesome that he had fallen into such luck. Why had that boy told with him to destroy such a cool thing?

He licked his lips and smugly panned the view of Rome from the large windows.  He still couldn’t believe, he—Elias Rey—a fifteen year old student from Penquis Valley High was actually in Rome! What harm would it be to see some of the sites? He bent down to Ilesar and demanded, “Show. Me. Rome.”

Suddenly, he was thrust into a stone cell with thick iron cuffs pressed tightly around his wrists. “Not funny, Ilzar.” He looked around the dimly lit chamber. “Ilzar?” His voice echoed through the empty room. He squinted, trying to make out shapes in the dark. Rusted iron and wet dirt stung his nostrils. Dusty webs clung to the walls and ceiling, and two sets of additional cuffs hung loose beside him. He tugged at the chains bolted to the wall, but they wouldn’t move. Sweat beaded on his forehead and trickled down the side of his face, as he struggled to get free.

After awhile, he moaned. Why did he have to be so skinny? If he had any kind of muscle, he might be able to break free. From three inch thick metal—probably not, he sighed. He flexed his scrawny arms against the cool stone. All at once, something skittered up the wall opposite him—something big and black—too big to be a spider. Somehow that thought did not comfort him.

Something else brushed against his shoe. He snapped his foot up, as a large river rat scurried past and then climbed the opposite wall. Rats! Not rats! He twisted his legs against the wall, as dozens of them appeared from the shadowy corners. They rushed toward the opposite wall and disappeared into a crevice about six feet from the floor. His heart raced. What was going on? Where were they going? His answer came quick, as his feet splashed down into a foot of water that had not been there before.

In a flurry to get to safety, several bumped up against him. One tried to climb his leg, but Elias jammed his knee into it, sending it back into the water. Just then, out of nowhere, the leather pouch floated into view. Elias swung his legs out, but knocked it further away. He watched in desperation, as a rat crawled on top of it, standing it upright in the rushing water. The quick movement from the rat sent it nearer to Elias. He stretched his legs out and caught the side of it, tumbling the rat into the rising water. He pulled the pouch closer and locked his floating legs around it. The water had now reached his neck and was lapping against his mouth. “Ilzar! Take me from this place!”

He heard a tiny grumble, but straight away they were on the bridge between the Vatican and the Castel Sant’Angelo. None of the tourists seemed to notice his dripping clothes or the terrified look that he had. What had he gotten himself into? He felt sick—deep in the pit of his stomach. “Take me home!”

The words were barely past his lips, and he was thrust back to his bedroom. He heard a commotion downstairs and pushed the wet pouch back into his dresser drawer, slamming it shut. He held his stomach and steadied himself against the bedpost letting a sudden wave of dizziness pass. “Ugh.” He stuck his head out into the hallway and called downstairs. “What’s going on?”

“Elias!” His foster mother, Ann Weston, hurried up the steps and threw her arms around him. “Where have you been? I heard a loud thud in your room and came to check on you, and I—we couldn’t find you anywhere!”

Elias felt guilty—like he had committed a crime. “I’m sorry, Mom.” He pressed his hand into the pit of his stomach—it churned mercilessly.

She stood back and looked at him. “Why are you wet? And where is that awful stink coming from?” Her eyes widened as she studied his face. “You look so pale, Elias.”

Elias heard his father coming up the stairs. “Did you find him, Ann?” He came into the bedroom, a rush of relief flooding his face. “Where have you been, Elias?” His eyebrows furrowed, as he touched his dripping shirt. “What happened?”

“I, uh, well.” Elias couldn’t tell him he’d just been in Italy—his dad would never believe him! And what if he hadn’t? What if he was losing his mind?

Ann handed him his robe and led him to the bathroom. “Go shower, Elias. You’ll feel much better.” She gave Clint a questioning look.

“Yeah, okay.” Elias closed the bathroom door and turned on the hot water. It felt great against his skin. He rinsed off, towel dried, and then pulled his robe on. The house was quiet when he stepped back into his bedroom. He dressed then sat on the edge of his bed, eventually laying back against his pillow deep in thought. His eyes closed.

He was carried away by a man with wings and taken to a secret place high in the mountains. They placed small, silver discs over his eyes so he could not see, while others administered to him.

 “Elias? Are you okay?” Clint shook his shoulders gently.

What a strange dream. He sat up as his mind cleared, and then he remembered—Ilzar. He swallowed hard and wet his lips.  He could hardly tell his dad he’d been keeping company with a talking snake. He fell back into the pillow. “I’m not feeling so well.”

Ann nodded. “You’ve got almost one hour before first period—get some more rest and if you’re still not feeling well, I’ll call you in sick.”

“Thanks Mom.” He waited until they left then hopped out of bed. He stared at the dresser. Had it all been his imagination? He hoped so, even if it meant years of therapy. His hands shook as he pushed the socks aside, but there it was, looking beguilingly innocent.

Ilzar hissed and slithered from the pouch. It wound slowly around Elias’ wrist, forming into a scaly, golden bracelet. Elias fell back, but felt strangely stronger. He covered the pouch, closed the dresser drawer, then crawled back into bed.

Why do you fight me, Elias of Elderberry?

 He looked down at the snake wrapped around his wrist. A puff of air escaped his throat, and he grunted. “I’m not wearing you to school, Ilzar.” He tugged at it then gestured to his shirt pocket.  Ilzar rose up in the air then slithered up his arm and into his pocket.

He pressed his head back against the pillow. So, this is what crazy felt like. He grimaced, knowing that he was not crazy, but not having any good explanation for what was happening to him. Suddenly, something nuzzled the crick of his neck.

“Cut it out, Ilzar.” It let out a tiny bawl, almost like a cough, and Elias turned his head expecting to see Ilzar. He jumped backward, nearly falling off the bed. “YIKES!”

A miniature, baby dragon the color of the sky sat on his pillow teetering back and forth as if it hadn’t quite got its bearings.

“Oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh!” Elias leaped from his bed and stared at the small, sapphire colored dragon. It coughed again and a tiny blue cloud of smoke came from its throat.

Elias’ mouth dropped open. Was this real? The dragon hopped off the pillow and came to the edge of the bed. It looked up at him with doleful eyes, coughed, than bawled again—like it was hungry.

Elias’ eyes widened. What did dragons eat—other than villages of people?

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