Gale is the chief financial officer of a wealthy company, and he is entrusted by his superiors to handle the company's financial affairs. However, he often embezzles the company and secretly keeps part of the funds to himself. Gale says he's doing it for his family, but even his own family condemns his actions.
- Marcella Ellsworth, Gale's wife, who initially agrees to keep her husband's illegal activities confidential. However, she later decides that, even if his efforts mean that they could live a fairly comfortable life, it's still wrong, and the extra money they made was still dirty.
- Cameron Ellsworth, the only child of the Ellsworth family. Unlike his parents, he shares no interest at all with money and is happier being a gas station attendant when he grows older.
Scott is heavily involved in the sex trade industry, and maintains his own short-lived relationships with the women around him. He is unconcerned with the welfare and being of those he victimize, only his profits and his reputation with his own friends.
He is unmarried and has no children, for obvious reasons.
When Reed and Terry first met, it seemed like a perfect match. What Terry didn't know, however, is that the "love" was nothing more than hot air. When Reed's other love affairs broke up with him, he became violent and hostile towards his own family, and spent much of his time and money binge drinking.
- Terry Curtis, Reed's wife. She initially thought that her relationship with Reed would "last forever and ever," and it wasn't until well into their marriage that she realized their so-called love wasn't love at all. How can their relationship be fixed?
- Lindsay Curtis, Reed's eldest daughter, who is a teenager by the time the story begins. Lindsay completely distrusts her father and refuses to speak with him, and encourages her younger brother to snub him as well.
- Kent Curtis, the youngest son in the family. Kent has been emotionally shaken ever since his father used excessive and frightening force on him, and has been avoiding his father since.
Matthew ran away from home along with his brother Jesse to escape the abuse and violence that plagued their old life, having spent two years on their own on the streets. Though the two brothers have remained incredibly close, the recent death of Jesse has left Matthew empty enough to consider taking his own life.
Maximilian fancies the fanciest of material objects, and he's worked hard to show for it. He decorates his lavish home with all the best furniture, ornaments, and appliances that money can buy. No matter how much he buys for his home, though, his materialism always fails to fill that feeling of emptiness within him.
Chapter 1. Emptiness
The night was not too terribly cold, but it lacked the warm glow of the daytime sun. The temperature was further mitigated by a cool breeze that, although not unbearable, still left bare skin shivering for warmth.
It was two in the morning. The city's streets were quiet, save for a few cars, buses, and some drunk pedestrians staggering home from the bars. The subway was closed for the night. There were no residents walking about, for nearly all of them had gone to bed. Most of the apartments and condos in the area had their lights turned off. In the distance, two police officers, making their nightly patrols, chatted quietly among themselves.
Alas, it was only a façade.
A boy staggered out of an alley, taking great care to avoid the haloes of light created by the scattered street lamps of the side streets. He was not in poor physical condition, though he walked with a limp. In his left hand was a shovel, and in his right he struggled to keep a heavy load on his back.
He turns his head one direction, then the other, before crossing the dimly lit street. He curses quietly to himself when he sees a pool of light in front of him, an unavoidable obstacle. Lacking any other option — and after checking for security cameras in the vicinity — he makes the dash across the ocean. The light washes over his face, his slim body, the shovel in his left hand, and the cargo on his back. A body.
A dead body.
It slips from his grip, and he nearly drops it. The shovel falls to the ground with a clatter as the boy invested every bit of energy and strength in his body to keep his load from falling. Finally, regaining his strength and balance, he picks up the shovel and hurries away, hoping that nobody had noticed him. Them.
The boy runs across an intersection against a red light, although it didn't matter due to the lack of traffic at this time of night. He enters a park, straightening his back slightly so he could look up at the walkway ahead of him. It was lit up with an array of lamp posts, all casting a cool glow onto the haven of green within the asphalt jungle. He strains his eyes to see more clearly, and his blood turns to ice. There, up ahead in the distance, were two figures walking down the well-lit pathway. He turns and runs from the light, away from the lit walkway, away from the lit sidewalk. He didn't need to double-check to see that it was the police.
Through the bushes, the weeds, the land untouched by man. He was running away from the cops, he was sure. He wouldn't run into them here. Just as long as there wasn't anyone ahead to scare him...
He stops. The wild grass gave way ahead of him to a sizable open field. A hill rose up in the middle and sloped gracefully down in all directions. It was lit only on the other side, where a pedestrian walkway fringed along the west side of the field. The boy lowered the body and the shovel gently to the ground and stopped to take a look. The field brought back memories — fond memories of his childhood, and the childhood of the body he had been carrying around. It was where they played for hours on end, without a care in the world, rolling around on the grass and getting dirty, much to the dismay of their mother. When they were too tired to run around, they would sit on the hill and watch as the sun set between two buildings, staining the sky blood red as it gave way to night. And once the spectacle ended, they would get up and walk together, hand in hand, back home to a hot dinner and clean bedsheets.
The boy picks up the shovel. It is time for him to get to work. Retreating back into the wild grass, he drives the shovel into the ground and begins to dig. He digs a rectangular hole, longer than it was deep. He digs, occasionally stopping to measure the hole with his body, though he refused to rest. He digs, and digs, and digs, until finally he is able to fit snugly inside the hole and see the edges of the surface with his peripheral vision. Putting the shovel aside, he picks up the deceased body and lowers it gently into the hole. Perfect fit. He stares solemnly at the face, wondering if it would be the last time he'd ever be able to do so. The face was similar to his; same nose, same hair, same eyes, same ears. He had never known a day without being able to see that face, having been brought up in the same household as he was. He had been close to that person even after that horrible, horrible day, the day that changed his entire life, the day that ruined it all. And it was that person that he, after getting into a massive fight with, not even an hour had passed before they were laughing and joking with each other again, and it was that moment where, despite the bruises they had, much of them having been inflicted on each other, they made two bracelets to signify their friendship greater than friendship.
The bracelet. It was still on his right wrist. He raised his wrist up to get a better glimpse of it. To a stranger, it would seem like nothing special, being nothing more than some climbing rope tied together at the ends. Tonight it seemed alien and foreign in the dim light. He looked back down at the hole, down at the body that occupied it. A matching bracelet was on its right wrist as well. It was on the right because it was "right", as they used to joke, but also because it was the arm they always used to arm wrestle with.
He bends down and kisses the face on the forehead. "I'm gonna miss you," he says softly, choking back tears.
He gets up. Wipes his eyes. He had to move on. The shovel is in his hands again as he begins to fill up the hole again. He watches through blurred, watery vision as the face, the body, and the limbs began to disappear under layers and layers of dirt. He covers the grave with leaves, grass, and other vegetation he rips from the ground, masking the scene. Once that was all done, he breaks the shovel into two with his hands and knee, assembling the pieces into a cross. Producing a small piece of rope from his pockets, he lashes the pieces together and drives it upright into the ground.
There. His work complete. He runs to the small pond in the park and washes himself, first his hands, then his face, mostly his eyes. His emotions got the better of him.
He had just buried his dead brother.
Scott Lewis never sleeps at night.
He looked over at his laptop, where he kept tabs on all of his clients and employees in a neatly-organized spreadsheet. All of his employees had an X next to them, followed by the name of the customer. Full house tonight, he thought. But there was no time for him to sleep, nor was there a need. He slept like a baby during the day; his business was most active during the evening and the night.
The phone on his desk buzzed. The LCD read "Room 656". He sighed. Probably a complaint from one of his clients. Normally he had a secretary that did the work for him, but today he called in sick and he couldn't find anyone else to take the reins. He picked up the phone. "Scott here. How may I help you?"
"I'm having a terrible night," the voice on the other end complained. "I've been trying and trying but I can't seem to do anything right now."
Scott didn't blink. "What do you want me to do about it?" he retorted. "It's not my problem you can't WooHoo. Don't blame my girls for it."
There was a scoff. "Wow, prime quality customer support! You're one epic failure of even a bad idiot right now." And he hung up.
Scott did the same. He leaned forward in his chair and barked down the hallway, "You're one epic failure of even a bad customer right now!"
Maybe he shouldn't have said that. He couldn't afford such a loss in business. He pulled up the spreadsheet that recorded his company's finances and checked. Not good. Figures have been going downhill. Maybe I should apologize...
He picked up the phone and buzzed room 656 again. The phone rang three times before there was a sharp *click*. The customer had rejected his call.
Scott swallowed. God dammit, what's he gonna do now...
There was the sound of a door being flung open. Scott leaned forward, and unsurprisingly, it was the door to room 656. The customer — a middle-aged man with a short beard and a bad temper — stormed out. "Nice sass you had there on the phone," he said sarcastically.
"You gonna pay or what?" Scott asked, standing up to block the doorway.
"Oh, so you want money." He scoffed. "And I assume your girl in there wants tips too. Well, screw them both!" He tried again, but Scott wasn't letting him leave. "You still wanna be paid, huh? I can pay you with this!" The customer flipped Scott the bird before shoving him out of the way and squirming out.
The mansion was quiet. On the outside, the vast, magnificent grounds were well-lit by the army of elegant lamp posts, illuminating the garden, swimming pool, and the maze of footpaths that snaked their way around the property. Inside, the main hall, living room, and kitchen were all lit up, though they were devoid of life. Upstairs, past the dimly lit hallways, slept the house's three occupants: two, a man and a woman, rested soundly in the master bedroom; while the remainder — a child of eleven years — slept in the smaller bedroom, though it was by no means tiny. Both bedrooms had their own private bathroom, walk-in closet, and ample space for recreation and relaxation.
Something stirred young Cameron Ellsworth awake. His eyes fluttered open, squinting at the sudden, blinding white light that shone into them. He rolled over onto his side and saw his shadow against a ghostly white light, a light that also revealed the grilles of the bedroom window.
He pushed back the covers, shivering slightly after leaving the warm confines of his blankets, put on his slippers, and made his way over to the window to draw the curtains. Out of all the rooms in the house, save for a few in the basement, his father had been the most critical of his. He had described it as being "too plain" and likened it to a "teenager's loft". Cameron didn't care, though. In his opinion, the rest of his house seemed to extravagant to even look at. He hated how even the slightest shoe scuff on the ground "[tainted] the image of the entire house", and didn't like how his father would get him to pick at every little bit of dust in the house before expected visitors arrived. What's the point of everything being fancy? he thought. I'm happy with things being plain and simple. He managed to get his room to look just like that, having no expensive chandelier to light it up; no plush, Persian carpets embroidered with gold threads; not even a Victorian-era style bathtub in his bathroom. He didn't want that. He didn't need any of that.
Curtains closed. The moonlight still shone through, but with weakened intensity, and only if one stared at the curtains for long enough. He retreated back to his bed, back under the warm covers, and slept.
Cigarette smoke danced slowly across the room, stealing upwards like some sort of a serpent on Chinese New Year. The smoke curled over and around the chandelier, leaving bits of soot and other unrecognizable dark gunk on the gold that made up the lightpiece. Below the chandelier was a massive living room, populated with expensive furniture and a lonesome man sitting on a lavishly decorated couch with a laptop on his lap.
The man coughed. Probably shouldn't be smoking indoors, he thought. But oh well.
The knife felt cool in Matthew's hand. Small, cool, but powerful. The boy turned the blade around in the light, allowing the blade to reflect some of it into his eyes. It sparkled like a diamond, almost. A diamond with many uses.
He brushed the flat sides of the blade along his arm. He wanted to feel the cool, cool touch of the blade — about as addictive as a drug — before applying it to where he wanted it to go the most. It felt... metallic. Weird. Unusual. Scary. Exciting. How many more adjectives were there to describe the feeling? It seemed so out of this world.
Okay now... turn the knife. He tightened his grip on the handle and began to turn his wrist. Or at least, he tried to. Try as he might, but his wrist would not budge. The blade met his skin, but not at the correct angle to go in. It was just like being pricked with a blunt needle.
C'mon, c'mon! But the communication difficulties between his hands and his brain continued. The hand holding the knife was shaking, almost shivering, even though it was a warm day. Matthew tried again, but still came up empty. He tried again, and again, and again, until finally he dropped the knife onto the ground. It hit the asphalt with a dull thud, a clattering of metal as it bounced around on the pavement before coming to a harmless stop.
He bent down to pick it up. Try as he might, though, his hands still weren't listening. For some reason, his vision began to wane, and he felt immensely... tired.
Tired? Tired! But it's only... it can't be...
He couldn't think anymore, could only watch as the edges of his vision began to blur and swim away into oblivion. Matthew slumped onto the ground, but his body wasn't done shutting itself down yet. He tried once more to pick up the knife, but the dark inkblots were beginning to conquer his vision. He tried to pinch himself awake, but he just couldn't. His eyelids blinked twice and slowly closed together...
Matthew woke up. He was in an alleyway, sitting on the pavement, staring at the brick wall across from him. On the ground was a knife, a small, cool knife, so light but powerful. To his right was the street he had entered from. To the left were a few trash cans and a wooden fence stretching from wall to wall, marking a dead end for anyone hoping to detour through the alley.
Wait a minute...
He jumped. Huh? Was the voice real?
He looked around, but he couldn't find the origin of the voice. "Who is it?" he asked timidly.
He heard the sound of metal scraping asphalt. He looked to his left and saw the knife being picked up by a man with black hair and glasses. "You came close to using this," he said. "Good thing I got here first."
Hold on a sec... he's no ordinary Joe! He was... he was...
The man smiled. "The one and only."
Matthew made a grab for the knife. "Give that back to me!"
The man was fast, though. The knife was in his other hand and behind his back. "Why?"
"You took my brother from me, didn't you? I heard all sorts of stories about you and how you let a lot of things happen, or something you make things happen! You let my parents fight and throw us out of the house! You let us wander the streets all on our own, stealing for food and supplies just to get by! You even let my brother die... unless I'm right and you personally made sure that he'd die, didn't you?! What sort of a creator are you, then, to just let me suffer while you sit in your stupid house eating off your silver plate and not caring about anything else?! You see why I don't trust you anymore? I trust this knife more than I trust you!"
"Matthew!" he said firmly. "You need to calm down. Killing yourself is not an option."
"Yes it is!" the boy seethed. "Who are you to make decisions for me?!"
"Someone here cares about you," the Human said. He remained remarkably calm despite the fact that a boy was clawing at his arms. "If you take your own life, how do you think that person's going to feel?"
"And who is this 'somebody'? You? Of course you're going to feel bad, huh? You created me and now you watched as I killed myself. Boo hoo! You don't care about me! Nobody in Sunrise Grove ever gives a damn about me! Why would they? I'm just a speck of dust on their feet!"
"Matthew!" a young voice cried out.
Matthew stopped and turned around to face the direction of the voice. That voice sounds familiar...
A boy turned the corner and rushed towards him. "Matthew!" He wrapped his arms around him and squeezed tightly.
Matthew blinked. "...Jesse?"
"What part of you makes you think he's not real?" the Human asked.
He sure looks like him... sounds like him... smells like him...
"The secret password to our room was 'Ice Smashers 23'," the boy said. "Remember?"
Tears formed around Matthew's eyes. He returned the hug and squeezed his brother tightly. "Jesse! ...It really is you..."
"I see me being dead hasn't made you any smarter, huh?"