Chapter [30]: Vinny

Meanwhile, back in the real world...

Vinny wasn’t a man to startle easily, but from what he just witnessed - or thought he witnessed - he thought that he just had a stroke.

One minute he was chasing his ungrateful, spoiled stepson through the boy’s room, and the next minute Tucker had vanished! Poof! Right into thin air. It was enough to make Vinny’s hair stand on end.

Out in the hallway, his wife who was also Tucker’s birth mother, Stacy, was hurrying towards the stairs. She yelled out as she went.

“I’m calling the police! Do you hear me, Vinny? If you hurt Tucker in any way, I’ll make sure you’re locked up for it!”

Her voice got softer as she went down the stairs. Normally Vinny would fire back at his wife. After all, she usually had to be put in her place and reminded who was really in charge around the house - but this time he didn’t say anything. He couldn’t. It was as if all the motivation for coming at Tucker had suddenly been sucked right out of him.

The boy was gone.

“I can’t hurt him,” Vinny muttered under his breath as he stared at the blank wall of Tucker’s room. “He’s not even here… Where the hell did he go?”

The man walked over to Tucker’s bed and got down on his hands and knees. Perhaps Tucker had slid under the bed, trying to hide. That was one reasonable explanation. Vinny was going to peer under the blankets hanging over the edge of the bed frame and -

Nope. The only thing beneath Tucker’s bed were a few clumps of dust and some shoe boxes.

“Alright…” said Vinny as he held onto the side of the bed and got back to his feet. “Where did you go, Tucker?” Boys just didn’t vanish into thin air, after all. There had to be a reasonable explanation - there had to, damnit!

Vinny’s blood pressure was starting to creep up, so he took a few deep breaths and ran his hand through his hair to calm himself back down.

“Where are you, Tucker?” he asked. The room was as empty as it seemed, and there was nobody to answer his question.

For the first time in a long time, Vinny was starting to feel like a crazy person. Had something snapped in his brain and caused him to hallucinate? Was this because he had drank too much today? Nothing like this had ever happened to him before.

Just to be sure that he wasn’t crazy, Vinny went back out into the hallway and walked up and down, checking in each room to make sure that Tucker hadn’t somehow snuck past him and hid in the bathroom or one of the spare bedrooms.

The last room he checked in was Richie’s old bedroom. Everything was left pretty much as if had been a few years earlier. Action figures were posed on the dusty shelves, and the bed was made. Things were always in order when it came to Richie’s room, which was more of a shrine kept intact by Stacy and Tucker. Vinny had nothing to do with it, and he didn’t intend to stir any spirits now. The most that he did was check around the furniture and under Richie’s bed, but as expected, there was still no sign of Tucker.

“What in the hell?”

He returned to Tucker’s room and sat on the bed.

What was he going to say to the cops who would inevitably show up? That his stepson had just disappeared? That was the most horrible-sounding excuse he could think of, and yet it was the only excuse he had. If Tucker wasn’t found safe and sound, Vinny was sure that he would be put away and not released. This would turn into a murder case. He would never see the outside again…

“All this because of a damn video game,” muttered Vinny. He was sure that Tucker had stolen that game. The idea of it nearly sent Vinny into a rage. He wasn’t a saint - not by a long shot - but, no boy living under his roof was going to steal things. He needed to be taught how to be responsible. Vinny liked to think that he had good intentions, but it always came out sharp. He wasn’t known for his warm persona. In fact, he believed that to succeed in this world, you had to be a hard ass. Don’t take anything from anybody. If you let someone get comfortable, then they will take advantage of you. That was why he had to always be on alert; always have his guard up.

Nobody was getting close to him. He would be respected, and if he couldn’t get respect, then he would be feared.

“A damn game…”

That’s all life was to these kids, wasn’t it? Just a game to be played. Their eyes were always glued to screens, worrying about tiny glowing pixels when there were real things in the world that needed to be dealt with. If Vinny had his way he would have all the video games on the planet destroyed and dumped into a landfill. Maybe with the distractions gone, kids would start to have half a brain.

What good would a game do to a kid? It certainly couldn’t give them a future. Not like hard work.

Vinny sighed and slumped his shoulders as he sat on the edge of the bed.

“Where is that game, anyway?” he said, looking around at the floor.

Tucker had been holding one of those noisy game systems before he disappeared through the wall. Was it possible that there was some dangerous side effect to playing with one of those things and he had been vaporized?

The thought made Vinny laugh. What was this, The Twilight Zone? Kids weren’t just vaporized by playing games. But, then again, what had everyone said about using cell phones when they first came out? Wasn’t there a big stink about cell phones giving you brain tumors? Perhaps if Vinny could find the game system on the floor, he could turn it in as evidence. That way he wouldn’t be accused of killing Tucker and hiding his body. Even he wasn’t that cruel.

He only meant to scare the kid a little. With a little fear, Vinny got the power he demanded.

He listened intently and after a few seconds he registered the tinny sound of ambient music coming from somewhere in the room. As he got to his feet he followed the sound, around one of the bureaus until he spotted the black clamshell game system lying face-down on the floor.

Such a tiny thing, he thought as he crouched down and picked it up. It can lead to such a strong addiction…

The device’s dual screens were glowing brightly as Vinny turned it over in his hands, searching for a way to turn it off. He had just found the power button when he noticed that the top screen was reflecting the room that Vinny was standing in.

He waved the device around and sure enough, there was a camera activated on the backside of the device.

“So, this thing has been spying on us, huh?” said Vinny. He had heard of criminals and perverts tapping into the cameras on people’s mobile devices to spy on them, take pictures, and gather personal information. Was that what was happening here?

If it was, Vinny was going to put a stop to it quickly.

He was just about to turn off the device when something on the screen gave him pause.

The image of the room wasn’t exactly accurate. When he looked closer, Vinny noticed that the plain wall that Tucker had last been leaning against before disappearing wasn’t plain at all when viewed through the tiny glowing screen. Instead, it looked like there was an open doorway, or some sort of dark archway, built into the wall.

Vinny’s eyes widened.

“Is this…real?” he asked.

As he stared at the strange archway, the sound of sirens got louder outside. The police had arrived. In a few minutes, Vinny was sure that he would be handcuffed and taken away.

“What an evening.”

He was prepared to just go downstairs and present the game system as evidence, even though it sounded totally crazy, but something kept him there. He was sure that Tucker had been leaning against the wall. It would have been only a few steps before Vinny could have touched him with his outstretched hands!

Vinny turned with the game system and faced the wall. The dark archway moved along with the flat plane as if it were really a part of it.

Could it be possible… thought Vinny as he crouched down in front of the wall. Could Tucker have gone through some sort of portal? Like on a sci-fi show? Was this some government test? Or had he broken through to another parallel dimension like all those creepy stories online?

Vinny just had to know.

The police were at the door downstairs, and Stacy answered it. They were talking to her and she sounded like she was in tears. He’d caused that. Hopefully he could iron it all out later, if he wasn’t behind bars.

His ticket out of this situation was to find Tucker, and all signs pointed to something paranormal going on.

Feeling completely stupid, Vinny reached out a hand towards the wall as he held the game system beside it. His fingers came close to the drywall, inching forward. He should feel the wall by now -

But, there was nothing but cold, empty air.

His breath caught in his throat.

Where had the wall gone?

He wiggled his fingers in the freezing air as if he had never felt open space before. A laugh escaped his lips. This was surreal!

He was just reaching around the supposed edge of the dark opening when he lost his balance. The rubber edge of his boot squeaked across the hardwood flooring and he rolled forward. His hand clenched the game system and he waved his other arm out, reaching for anything to stop his fall.

But, there was nothing. He was falling forward through the dark opening and he let out an embarrassing scream as he glanced over his shoulder and saw the brightly lit bedroom getting smaller and smaller behind him. In a second the mysterious opening had sealed itself up like some old-timey movie transition, and Vinny half expected to hear an animated voice say, “That’s all, Vinny!”

That was the last thing that ran through his mind as he tumbled through the darkness.

The inky blackness didn’t remain for long, however, because a hazy light formed around him accompanied by the sound of wind howling through the murky scenery.

Something cold and wet blew against his face and he blinked. What was that?

Reaching up with his free hand, Vinny felt for the substance and realized after a few seconds that it was snow. His feet landed in a very soft, cold and deep snow drift. It was comfortable and a lot more pleasant than splatting against concrete, which is what Vinny expected to happen. That, or he was descending into hell itself, but that would have been firey and hot, if the stories were to be believed.

This strange place that he could barely see had to be something else.

Was this where Tucker had been transported?

It was still so dark. Vinny assumed that he was in the middle of some kind of blizzard. Wind whipped at his face and clothes. He could feel the freezing air going right through his clothing and he wished he had a jacket.

He started walking through the snow, hoping to come across someone who could help him. He needed to find out where he was and how he could get back to the house. Perhaps he could find Tucker in this mess and drag him along. That would solve a lot of problems.

“Hello?” he called out into the gray tundra. “Is there anyone out there?”

His voice was overtaken by the howling wind. Nobody could hear him out here.

He started to wonder if this really was hell. Or a drunken nightmare.

He continued to call out anyway.

“Hello? Is there anyone who can help me? I need to get back!”

The wind howled some more, but this time instead of seeing just a flat wasteland covered in snow, there was a dark speck in front of him. Something or someone stood just a little way off in the distance.

Could that be the help he needed?

He started to trudge through the snow towards the dark speck, which grew gradually as he got closer and closer. When he was within ten feet, he realized that the dark speck was actually a man. This would have been good news, except the man seemed incredibly out of place.

Vinny grimaced as he observed the figure’s formal attire. This wasn’t someone bundled up for the weather. On the contrary, this man was wearing a black suit and tie. His skin was nearly as pale as the snow around them. His eyes, however, were bright and seemed to glow amidst all the gloom and haze of the blizzard.

Vinny stopped and got snow in his shoes, but his eyes never left the man in black.

“H-hello?” he said.

The man in black blinked, staring at Vinny as if he did not expect to encounter him. Vinny didn’t expect to encounter the man in black, either, but that was besides the point. There were much stranger things at work here.

“Vincent Straithern,” said the man in a voice that cut through all the noise of the storm. “I am surprised to see you here.”

“How do you know my name?” asked Vinny. The man had spoken his formal name - something that only his deceased mother had done. “Who are you?”

“My name is Enoch,” said the man in black, completely ignoring the first question. He nodded at the game system in Vinny’s hand. “I see you have the cartridge?”

“Cartridge?” Vinny glanced down at the game system. “You mean this stupid video game?”

Enoch chuckled.

“It pains me to do this,” he said with a look as if he were under some pressure to do something against his will, “but, if the cartridge has transported you, then what is done is done. There is no going back.”

“W-wait!” said Vinny, taking a step closer to the man. “No going back? I have to go back! And I need Tucker to come with me!”

It was crazy - him standing in knee-deep snow and arguing with a man in a suit - but, Enoch didn’t so much as flinch as he looked at Vinny.

“I’m sure you will find Tucker in due time,” said Enoch. “But that is in the future. Let us deal with your present, shall we?”

With a wave of his hand, Enoch seemed to freeze everything around them. The blustering snow, howling wind, and even the scenery seemed to fade away into a frosted-glass overlay and only he and Vinny were unaffected. The noise of the storm was eliminated and for the first time since he had fallen through the strange portal, Vinny could hear his breathing and even his own thoughts. It was like entering a vacuum chamber.

Enoch gave him a grim smile and walked forward. The man’s shiny shoes seemed to instantly freeze the snow drift in front of him and his soles clicked as he walked towards Vinny without struggle. Vinny would have fallen back and tried to run away if he didn’t already realize that Enoch was some sort of master of this realm. Was he like a shadow person? A dimension-hopper? Vinny wanted to curl up into a ball and just disappear.

That wasn’t an option, however, because Enoch came right up to him until they were face to face. Again, Enoch smiled forcibly, and looked down at Vinny, and every feature of his face was almost like staring at a porcelain doll. It made Vinny shudder.

“As I hinted,” he started without blinking. “You are not supposed to be here. But, we shall make due. A little chaos should keep things interesting. But, before all the technicalities -” he raised his hand and with a flick of his fingers, the game system in Vinny’s hand rose up on its own as if being pulled by an invisible wire. The pressure pulling it grew stronger until Vinny released the device and it went floating into Enoch’s own hand. It glowed for a moment, surrounded by a bright blue light. Then it started moving back towards Vinny. “Let’s ensure that you don’t lose this,” Enoch continued. “After all, Tucker would be pretty upset if anything were to happen to it.”

The game system hovered over Vinny’s open hand, then in an instant, it dropped into it and connected with his skin. Upon making contact with it, Vinny felt a searing heat, as if he had just touched a white-hot stovetop. This sensation lasted only a moment before dissolving away, and as it did, the game system turned translucent and then finally disappeared completely with a snikkt.

Vinny blinked.

“What was that?” he asked, dumbfounded.

“Insurance for the game system,” Enoch explained. “You cannot lose it, and it cannot be taken away from you unless by Tucker’s own hand. He is the rightful owner, after all. You will see when the time comes. But, for now, let us figure out who you are.”

Vinny was about to open his mouth to retort, but he was silenced as a flash of light blinded him and he was pulled from where he stood, falling into the unknown for the second time that day.

[ARC 1 - END]


About the author


Bio: I have been a writer pretty much from the time I could hold a pencil and scribble letters. I am looking to develop my craft and better my storytelling. I am a huge fan of fantasy and horror in all their incarnations. When I'm not reading, I'm usually hunting for Legos. You can find me trying to decipher the mini-figure blind bags at the local big-box store.

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