The Prophet of Starfall: Episode 1

A late November breeze blew through the branches, tearing loose the lingering leaves and sending them skittering down the path. Sunlight peeked through the clouds, casting a single beam of light onto a solitary woman standing by the grave. As her eyes traced over each letter of the engraved stone, she wept at the memory of a man who had been both the bravest and dumbest person she ever knew, the man she had dared to love. The sun retreated behind a passing cloud, casting shadows across the tombstone of

NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE NICHOLS

“The Prophet”

“Idiot,” she spat, a single tear slipping down her cheek.

The letter in her pocket felt heavy. She’d been carrying it around for seven months, longing to read it but too frightened to know his last words.

“Elisabeth, you’ve held onto that note long enough,” her father had said. “Don’t you think it’s time to move on? I miss him too, dear, but he’s gone. And frankly, I don’t think he would want you to hold on like this.”

Reaching into her jacket, she pulled out the envelope. After loosening the flap, she slipped the note free and opened it. It was written in Nate’s hand.

“Elisabeth, I’m sorry to say goodbye in this way. The novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne said everyone has a place in this world, a purpose. It’s just a shame I found mine on the day I chose to leave this earth. The reason I left, my story, starts long before I met you.”

* * *

The smell of old books and sandalwood incense filled the store as Nathan’s eyes slid over one title after another until he finally declared in frustration,

“There’s got to be something.”

“Sometimes what we want, what we truly need, isn’t where we can find it,” someone said.

Nathan looked toward the voice until his eyes rested on the face of an old man, the corners of his watery blue eyes crinkling in a welcoming smile beneath his full beard and moustache.

“Then how am I supposed to find it?” Nathan asked.

“You can’t,” he said, tapping the top hat resting on his gray head. “It has to find you.”

With fingerless gloves, he pulled back his long coat, reached into a bag hanging at his hip and brought out an old leather bound book. Written across the spine in gold lettering was Alice in Wonderland.

When he saw the title, Nathan politely responded, “No thanks. I’m familiar with that story.”

“But have you read it?” the old man asked.

Nathan paused then said, “Well. . .no I haven’t read it.”

The old man removed his top hat and ran skeletal fingers through his graying hair.

Returning the hat to his head, he extended the volume toward Nathan and advised,

“One must always reserve judgement until one knows the complete story.”

Nathan hesitated but then reached out and took the book. The leather felt old and frail in his hand. As he gently turned the book over, he felt a tingle run up his arm. After a moment to consider, he said,

“Thanks anyway.”

But when Nathan looked up, the old man was gone. He took the book up to the front counter and got the clerk’s attention.

“Excuse me. Someone gave me this book, and I wanted to return it. I don’t know what shelf it came from.”

The clerk took the book and turned it over. After checking the cover and inside pages, he said,

“This isn’t ours, but I’ll buy it off you.”

Nathan thought for a moment then quickly scanned the bookstore searching for the old man. When he didn’t find him, he turned back to the clerk.

“I—. Wait. That’s him,” Nathan said, pointing to a portrait hanging on the wall behind the counter.

When the clerk turned and saw the picture, he said,

“Oh that’s the bookkeeper. He used to run this place, but he hasn’t been seen in over twenty years.”

His mind working to make sense of what had just happened, Nathan heard the faraway voice of the clerk as he pressed about buying the book. With no response to the offer, Nathan took the book and walked out of the bookstore.

Crossing the street toward the parking lot, he tucked the old book into his jacket. When he reached a poppy red pickup truck, he opened the passenger door, grabbed his Yankees baseball cap out of the seat and climbed in. Carefully balancing the book on the dashboard, he pulled on his cap.

“Thorne, you are nowhere near Yankee territory,” Eric Roth said as he started up the truck. “Why do you insist on wearing that hat?”

Eric had known Nathan since grade school. And ever since Nathan’s run in with a con man and thief had left him on probation, Eric had been his employer and landlord. He’d always called him Thorne, short for Hawthorne, Nathan’s middle name. Nathan had a tattoo of thorns on his arm along with a few other tattoos, each with a special meaning.

“I’m a proud Yankee fan,” he insisted.

“Oh really?” Eric asked. “When’s the last time you saw a game?”

Nathan paused, reaching back for the memory.

“Twenty years?”

“So when you were eight,” Eric said.

“With my dad, yes,” Nathan defended.

Nathan’s dad James had served on the police force from his high school graduation until his death, and his mother Rachael had worked at the local newspaper. When his father passed, his mother took a second job to pay the bills until one night after a long day she fell asleep at the wheel and died in the crash. Both his parents gone, Nathan was taken in by Benjamin Nero who turned out to be a con man. When he tricked an unsuspecting Nathan into helping him track a shipment of diamonds, Nathan discovered what he was up to at the last minute and called the police. His testimony against Nero got him probation with the understanding that as long as he was on probation, he could not leave the city. After that, Eric took him in and gave him a job at his father’s newspaper, the same one where Nathan’s mother had worked. Eric and Nathan became closer than brothers, and Eric always encouraged him to strike out, take risks and live life instead of just watching it pass by.

“See that’s what I’m talking about,” Eric said pulling out of the parking lot. “You spend your time hold up in your room clinging to the past and reading those comic books,” he continued as he headed south.

“Graphic novels,” Nathan corrected, feeling stupid for having done so.

“I know and I’m sorry. I’ve read a few of those things myself,” Eric apologized. “What’s that one you were in?”

“Starfall, and I wasn’t in any of the main three. They just put a character based on my likeness in one of the back stories,” Nathan corrected.

“Oh yea. The back story of the Hercules character. That was. . .,” Eric trailed off trying to remember the name. “Jericho, right?”

“Yea,” Nathan said. “He teamed up with Victor Vine, an agoraphobic who could turn off powers in supers and even summon lightning to defend himself. He helped Jericho escape a corrupt doctor who was bent on using hypnosis to build an army from his patients.”

Eric nodded his understanding then asked, “And that was the second place prize?”

“Yep. First place won a copy of everything, most of which I already had. To enter the contest, you had to write a storyline to follow the author Robert Burns’ original trilogy. But before anything could happen, Burns disappeared.”

Nathan stopped talking when he saw Eric bobbing his head.

“Fine. I get it. I’m rambling again.”

“No, I understand. You’re passionate about this. I just wish you could channel your energy into finding the right girl,” Eric explained.

“Honestly, I don’t think there’s anyone out there for me,” Nathan said.

“That’s just because there’s nothing in this town worth dating,” Eric pointed out.

“That’s not true. What about that girl in printing? Pretty obvious she’s interested in you,” Nathan said.

“Have you looked at her? She probably likes me because I remind her of her cousin,” Eric joked.

Nathan couldn’t help laughing.

“Oh that’s low.”

“But disturbingly accurate,” Eric retorted.

Nathan shook his head and said, “You’re a terrible person, Eric. Terrible.”

“You’re free to walk if I’m so evil,” Eric teased.

Nathan suddenly noticed that they had just passed the city limits sign.

“Hey you know I can’t go outside the city. If I’m caught, they’ll send me to prison,” Nathan reminded him.

“No one’s going to catch us. We’re just going a mile and a half outside the city. I can turn around if you’re scared,” Eric joked.

Nathan knew Eric was challenging him. He would never knowingly put him at risk. Like Nathan, he had lost his mother when he was young. His father was always away on business trips, and one day his mother announced that she had had enough. She packed a bag and walked out. Eric never saw her again. As a rule, he didn’t let people get close. Nathan was the exception.

“Fine,” Nathan surrendered. “But if I get arrested, I’m bringing you down with me.”

“You can’t prove nothin’,” Eric laughed as he pulled away from the last of the city.

“I know where the bodies are buried,” Nathan teased.

“Only because you helped bury them, my friend,” Eric scoffed.

* * *

Nathan stood at the edge of the cliff overlooking the rock strewn desert floor below as he strained under the weight of the parachute strapped to his back.

“Ready?” Eric asked beside him.

“I don’t think I can do this,” Nathan said as he backed away, his voice tremulous.

“Sure you can. It’s just cliff diving. I’ve done it plenty of times. First you plummet, then you pull the chute, and then you drift peacefully to the ground,” Eric calmly explained.

“Yea, but you’re insane,” Nathan pointed out. “Why aren’t you wearing a chute?”

“This trip’s for you, buddy. I’m going to meet you at the truck,” Eric said.

Nathan walked back to the edge of the cliff and looked over again.

“I can’t do this,” he said turning to walk away.

“I bet you can,” Eric said. “In fact I know you will.”

Nathan was getting dizzy just thinking about what he was supposed to do.

“Thorne!” Eric said.

“I can’t do it, man. You know I hate heights,” Nathan said.

They stood only a foot from the cliff’s edge.

“I know you’re going to jump,” Eric smiled.

“What makes you so certain?” Nathan asked.

“You’ll have to,” Eric said then ran and jumped over the edge.

“Whoo hoo!” he shouted as he went over.

“Eric!” Nathan yelled, jumping after him.

* * *

As they headed back to the truck, Eric couldn’t stop laughing.

“You idiot!” Nathan snapped, trying to catch his breath. “What kind of adrenaline fueled moron jumps without a parachute?”

“I knew you’d catch me,” Eric gasped, “and that was fun!”

“You’re crazy!” Nathan snapped.

Nathan tossed the parachute in the truck bed as Eric stopped laughing and wiped his eyes. He had always been a bit of a thrill seeker. Jumping off a cliff and expecting Nathan to catch him was stupid and reckless, the very thing Eric did for excitement.

“So be honest,” Eric said as he started the truck. “That took courage to jump after me with no thought for yourself. Who were you thinking of?”

“What?” Nathan asked angrily.

“What hero were you channeling to pull off a rescue like that?” Eric asked.

“I wasn’t channeling anybody!” Nathan barked.

“Ahh. So it’s a damsel in distress kind of thing. C’mon, who were you thinking of? I read Starfall. Was it the cop? That brunette?” Eric pressed, trying to divert Nathan’s attention.

“Displace? No. I wasn’t thinking about Cassandra. She starts dating Jericho anyway. Remember?” Nathan said, beginning to calm down.

“I thought Jericho died,” Eric remarked.

“At the end, yes. He sacrifices himself to stop Dr. Ghislain chemical weapon,” Nathan informed.

“And Ghislain is the crazy German terrorist, right?” Eric asked.

“He’s a political terrorist, but yea. That guy. And I wasn’t thinking about Cassandra. I was thinking about. . .,” Nathan paused. “I was thinking about someone else.”

As he turned onto the main road, Eric glanced over at Nathan, suddenly understanding.

“Oh I know that look. It’s that girl who dies on page 1. The blonde with the bat wings.”

Nathan looked out the window to hide his embarrassment.

“They handcuffed her and tossed her off a building, right?” Eric asked, knowing he was telling it wrong.

“Her name was Elisabeth Heather Hayes, but she went by the name Scorpio. They wrapped her in chains, pinning down her wings, and then threw her off the top of the Crescent Bay Hotel,” Nathan explained.

“Crescent Bay? I thought it was Starfall,” Eric asked.

“No. Starfall is the name of the series. The city is called Crescent Bay because it’s a coastal town and the bay is crescent shaped,” Nathan explained.

Eric nodded, knowing what was coming next. After a long pause, Nathan said,

“It just bugs me, you know. There was no reason to kill her. Jericho got involved in spite of her death. The only reason they killed her was to start the story off on a dark note so the audience would feel they were stepping into an evil place of death.”

“So if you were there, you wouldn’t let her die?” Eric asked.

“Of course not. I’d rescue her. Jericho ends up on the right track, so it’s not necessary to kill her,” Nathan explained.

“I can’t imagine a hero calling himself Thorne,” Eric joked. “Sounds too much like a villain.”

“Now Nathan Nichols, that sounds like a hero’s name,” Eric teased.

“Sounds like a newspaper reporter to me,” Nathan said.

“You could be a detective like your dad was,” Eric suggested.

“Like he wanted to be, you mean. He never got the chance,” Nathan said as the city limits sign appeared over the hill.

“Thorne,” Eric said with a solemn tone.

As thunder rumbled overhead from an approaching storm, Nathan looked to where Eric was pointing. Just before the sign, a car had turned over in the ditch. Smoke poured out of its engine, and the wheels were still spinning.

“Looks like it just happened,” Eric said, pulling the truck to a stop a safe distance away.

As they jumped out of the truck, Nathan ran for the car, yelling over his shoulder,

“Call an ambulance!”

Eric pulled out his cellphone and dialed 911 as he watched Nathan climb atop the car.

When Nathan peered inside the vehicle, he saw that a woman was inside, still seat belted. She was bleeding from multiple cuts and had a dazed look in her eyes.

“Ma’am, are you okay?” he asked.

“I think so,” she said. “What happened?”

“I don’t know, but we need to get you out of the car. Can you climb up to me?” he asked.

“I’ll try,” she answered, raising her arms.

“Loosen your seatbelt first,” Nathan instructed.

Once she was free, she worked her way up until Nathan was able to take her hand and help her out.

“Oh wait. My purse is still in there. It’s got my medicine and the bill money,” she said.

“I’ll get it. Just move away from the car,” Nathan said, passing her to Eric.

“Ambulance is on the way, ma’am,” Eric told her.

“Find a place for her to sit down. I’m going back for her purse,” Nathan said.

“Her purse?” Eric complained.

“It’s important to her,” Nathan explained.

Just as Nathan climbed back into the car, the engine caught on fire.

“Hurry!” Eric yelled, moving the woman to safety.

Grabbing the purse, Nathan quickly climbed out of the car and hit the road running just seconds before the engine exploded.

“That was too close,” he sighed.

Suddenly he felt the hair on his neck stand up as he saw the Alice in Wonderland book on the dash open and its pages begin to flip. He looked up to the angry sky just in time to see the lightning strike him.

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