Spring-Heeled Jack by Wyll Andersen by Wyll Andersen - Read Online

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Spring-Heeled Jack - Wyll Andersen

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Publishing

Chapter 1

"Today, the year is 1956. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Zebulon Corporation, the United States has entered a technological and economic boom. Thanks to Zebulon, the industries of steam, clockwork, and plasma technology have become the cultural norm. Steam is the primary energy source in homes across the nation; powering devices such as ironing machines, stoves, and even refrigerators. Clockwork mechanisms can be wound up and used for simple everyday tasks such as mowing the lawn or picking up trash, but are most common now-a-days in toys for children. The wonders of plasma energy allow for weaponry once only believed to exist in fiction to become a reality: rayguns and energy cannons keep our military strong and one step ahead of our enemies. For everyday uses, plasma energy can be harnessed and kept within tubes for lighting our homes and streets as well as power television and other monitor devices.

"Las Vegas, Nevada is home to the Zebulon Corporation’s World Headquarters. Founded in 1917 by Yliaster Zebulon before the United States’ involvement in the first World War, the Zebulon Corporation was tasked with developing weapons for the nation’s military, giving the United States and its allies a strong upper hand.

"The Zebulon Corporation chose to locate in the then barren deserts of Nevada for isolation and testing purposes. However, this paved way for an industrial and technological explosion, creating hundreds of jobs and causing thousands to flock to the newly founded city of Las Vegas. By 1940, the United States had entered the Golden Era of Technology and Prosperity all thanks to the Zebulon Corporation.

"Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States joined the Allied Forces once again to take on the villainous Axis Powers in the Second World War. As the war was reaching its conclusion, the Zebulon Corporation stepped in once again with a new weapon. Replacing that of the Manhattan Project, Zebulon started research and development of the Ouranos Program which would lead to the development of the deadliest war machine of all time: The Sky Ziggurat – Bahamut.

"At the end of the war, the United Nations agreed that the Sky Ziggurat was much too dangerous and called for its immediate termination and a ban on any Ziggurat-Class war machine.

"To this day, the Zebulon Corporation remains one of the most powerful and influential companies in the United States. In 1946, following the aftermath of the war, Zebulon founded the Fortuna Preparatory Academy for future brilliant minds such as yourself. We hope that when your time here at Fortuna Prep is concluded you’ll find a home at Zebulon as so many have before you.

From everyone at Zebulon, we hope you all have a wonderful school year!

That was the video they showed at the start of the year at Fortuna Prep. The video that would spark the mind of every student that year. Every student at Fortuna Prep was basically guaranteed a job at the most famous and powerful technological company in the nation, if not the world: The Zebulon Corporation.

Amongst these students was Atticus Whaelord, a brilliantly minded third year student studying criminal justice in hopes of becoming one of Zebulon’s personal private investigators. The joke on campus was that Atticus was the school’s very own Sherlock Holmes. Whenever there was a mystery, Atticus was the guy to solve all your problems.

It was October 17th when everything was set into motion. The gears of fate began to turn, and Atticus’ life would never be the same. It all started normally enough: Wake up and go through the daily cleaning ritual. Brush teeth, wash face, check for blemishes, wash face again just to be sure; and lastly, scan for anything that didn’t look quite right. Scruffy blond hair? Check. Blue eyes? Check. Dorky crooked smile? Check. Everything seemed to be in place.

After that, head to the cafeteria for breakfast. Atticus was never hungry in the morning, but if he didn’t shovel down something, he knew he’d regret it later. After breakfast, head to class: Geometrics, Criminal Science, Gym, English Literature, and Chemistry.

Then, each and every day ended with U.S. History with Professor Henry Varnum, the new history professor on Campus. The professor came to Fortuna Prep after the previous history teacher, Mrs. Alice Schaufelberger retired after her forty-year teaching career. He pranced around like he was the best teacher that ever existed, claiming to have dozens of teaching awards and some highly prestigious former teaching jobs, but it was hard to believe. The man was a stingy, cold, and all around grouchy man. At times, it seemed like he didn’t even like his job, nor if he even knew what he was doing. But, Fortuna Prep needed its history professors, and if he fit the bill then there was nothing to be done.

Professor Varnum was finishing up his daily lecture; Atticus, as well as many other students, were having a hard time keeping their eyes open. Every single history class dragged on like an eternity. Finally, the school bell rang throughout the campus, alerting teachers and students alike that the day was over. In Varnum’s class, the final bell was the most wonderful sound. No longer would the students be forced to listen to a dry old man spew out mundane history lessons.

As the students were packing up and getting ready to leave, the professor raised his hands for one last announcement:

Do not forget, he said, that your history exam is tomorrow. Everything we’ve learned up to this point will be on the exam. It’ll be worth thirty-five percent of your final grade, so missing it is not an option. Understand?

The students all mumbled with understanding as they quickly made their way out of the classroom. As Atticus made his way out, he was caught by his best friend and roommate: Brock Mackenzie, a fellow third year and a psychology student.

Atticus had always gotten along well with Brock. The two met their freshman year when their original roommates got transferred to a different program. The two became one fo the most interesting pair of friends on campus: Brock loved to crack jokes and socialize, but Atticus was always fonder of just staying in his dorm by himself. They were scientific proof that opposites attract.

As Atticus reached the doorway, Brock called out, Hey Atticus, do you want to do some studying tonight?

For the exam, Atticus asked. I think I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. No amount of extra cramming will do me any good.

Well, what about me? I need all the help I can get.

Atticus laughed. You’re telling me.

The two exchanged laughs and made their way down the hall, laughing and joking until reaching the campus courtyard.

Hey, I don’t know if you noticed, Brock chimed in, but your buddy Mike wasn’t in class today.

Apart from Brock, Mike Nelson was Atticus’ only real friend at Fortuna Prep. He was another introverted antisocial kind of guy. He and Atticus first became friends when the two had a battle of wits, trying to stump one another with riddles and puzzles to see who’d be the first to flub up. The two went at it for hours and eventually their riddles were just whatever made up babble they could think of. The progression went something like:

What has a head, a tail, is brown, and has no legs?

A penny! What gets harder to see the more of it you have?

Darkness! What’s black when you buy it, red when you use it, and white when you’re done with it?

Charcoal! If a green marble bounces up and down, who stops it from going side to side?

An elephant! If an airship crashes into the ocean and everybody on board dies before hand, who makes the pancakes?

Professional baseball!

And so the battle went on, neither one ever admitting defeat.

Atticus hadn’t noticed that Mike wasn’t in class. He assumed he was sick or perhaps he’d just decided to skip class for the day, but that kind of behavior wasn’t like him. Atticus agreed to study with Brock later, but first he’d need to check in with Mike.

As Atticus made his way across the school courtyard, he could overhear the mumblings and gossip of his fellow students. None of it really interested him; it was just business that most teenagers dealt with: boyfriends, girlfriends, dances, and so on. None of which applied to Atticus. He wasn’t exactly what one would call a ladies’ man. That was more Brock’s thing. Atticus was far too bumbling and bashful; he wouldn’t know what to do if a girl he liked said something to him. God forbid she like him back.

When Atticus arrived at Mike’s dorm, he knocked to the rhythm of Shave and a Haircut. Usually, Mike would always respond with the appropriate Two Bits, but something was off today. Mike didn’t respond at all. He just opened the door all slow and glum.

Hey pal, Atticus said. What’s up? You weren’t in class today.

Mike looked dreadfully sick. His green eyes were dark and sunken in behind his glasses, almost as if he hadn’t slept well in days. Not only that, but his slick and normally well-groomed black hair was mangled and greasy.

Mike, you look awful. Are you okay?

Mike shook his head. I’ve just been really under the weather recently.

Do you need to see the nurse?

No, I don’t feel sick, just down.

You just need a good laugh, Atticus said. When set loose I fly away. Never so cursed as when I go astray. What am I?

Mike sighed for a brief moment and then found himself lost in thought for a moment. A smile cracked across his face when he thought of the answer.

Really, he said. A fart?

Atticus gave him a thumbs up and said, Even when you’re under the weather, you always have an answer.

Mike smiled. Thanks, Atticus. That did help a bit.

Brock and I are gonna be having a study session for the history exam tomorrow. Would you like to join us?

Mike shook his head and his smile disappeared. Sorry, but I just can’t.

Atticus knew not to pry any further. Despite wanting to help, Atticus always wanted to respect his friends’ desires, even if he felt they were wrong.

Just as he was getting ready to head out, Mike had to stop him for just one moment.

Hey, Atticus, he said, do you believe in ghosts?

Ghosts? Atticus looked at him confused.

I know it sounds silly, but I feel like I’m being ‘haunted’ for lack of a better term.

Atticus shrugged. I don’t know. I’ve never met a ghost before. But, if one is haunting you, tell it to come haunt me. I’d love to meet him.

Mike smiled and said a final goodbye to Atticus before closing the door.

Atticus returned back to his dorm where Brock was patiently waiting. The night went on with the two exchanging questions about what they thought would be on the history exam. Atticus knew every single question Brock threw at him, yet Brock could only manage to get about seventy percent of his questions right. Atticus tried to convince him that seventy percent was still a passing grade, but Brock knew he’d be in for major trouble during the exam.

As the hours passed, snacks devoured, and questions thrown at one another; Atticus finally cashed in for the night while Brock did some late night studying by his lonesome. Atticus tried to convince him that cramming only made things worse, but Brock threw some psychological mumbo-jumbo that eventually lulled Atticus right to sleep.

*****

The next morning, Atticus woke up to the seven o’clock chime of the campus clock tower. It wasn’t the loudest sound in the world, but it was loud enough to wake Atticus. He didn’t think of himself as a light sleeper, but apparently any slight sound woke him.

He went about with his typical morning ritual and started by rolling out of bed. In doing so, he saw Brock was still sitting at his desk in the corner, passed out from studying. He wasn’t sure exactly how late Brock stayed up, but Atticus assumed it wasn’t too late.

Atticus shuffled his way over and nudged his roommate awake. Studying a bit too hard, I see?

Brock grumbled and sleepily pushed him aside. Atticus laughed and continued his way to the bathroom. He started up the latter half of his morning ritual: washing up. He brushed his hair, his teeth, took a quick shower, and changed into his Fortuna Prep uniform: A white button shirt, an indigo sweater with golden trim and the Fortuna Prep logo over the left breast, and a pair of black slacks.

As he was finishing up his business in the bathroom, Atticus heard Brock finally wake up in the other room. In a hectic rush, Brock stubbed his toe on the desk and let out a high pitched yelp.

Why didn’t you wake me up,

I tried, Atticus said. He tried his best to hold back his laughter, but it was no use.

When he made his way out of the bathroom, Brock quickly shoved past as he tried to frantically put on his uniform and brush his hair.

How long did you stay up last night?

Way to late!

Atticus laughed and picked up a comb off his desk, slicking back his hair into just the way he liked it.

How can you be so calm, Brock shouted from the bathroom. I know you’re smart, but isn’t this at least a little bit stressful? It’s worth forty percent of your grade!

Atticus shrugged. It’s all just memorization, he said. And it’s not forty percent, it’s thirty-five.

Brock scoffed off the remark as he made his way out of the bathroom. He looked good for getting ready in such a short amount of time. His black mangled mess of hair was brushed into a less chaotic fashion, his face was clean, and his small rectangular glasses rested perfectly on his nose. You’d never believe that he’d woken up less than five minutes ago. Together, the two grabbed their schoolbags and headed off to class.

The day went by like normal. Classes went by as usual with no unwanted interruptions. Brock spaced out most of the day trying to cram as much information about the upcoming history test as he could, but deep down he