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              CH. 1.                       A                  MUDDLED             BIRTHDAY



    Brandon E. Muddles wanted to be normal. He wanted to feel like everyone else in the world. Sometimes at night as he was falling asleep, he would hear his mother’s footsteps and think, mom and dad are dancing again; because it sounded the same as their feet moving across the bare wood floor used to. And now, he just wanted his father back home.

     Brandon also desperately wished he could give his best friend Tim, a better home. If his mother would just adopt him, then Tim could have a proper mom too. And every once in a while Brandon thought it would be nice if he could go back to 10/11/97 and tell just turned eight year old him to spend a little more time enjoying his birthday.

     Brandon’s eyes opened just a crack. Eighteen. He was eighteen today. He reached for the watch he had tucked under his pillow. It was 7:14. He tried to focus on the time but his mind was racing with memories from ten years ago. 

     Ten years ago he had checked the clock when he awoke and it was 7:22. Even then, he liked to be up early on his birthday so he could get the absolute most out of it. 

     Then and now Brandon Muddles could hear his mother singing Happy Birthday in the kitchen. Eighteen year old Brandon rubbed his crystal blue eyes and grabbed his glasses from the shelf next to his bed, having already packed his contacts. He threw off the covers and lay there for just a moment, running a hand through his golden hair that he probably should have cut by now.

     Ten years ago he had slid out of bed and landed with a thud that he knew only an eight year old could make. His cheeks had hurt because he hadn’t stopped grinning since he had woken. He had run out of his room and slid down the hallway, dragging white socks across the wood floor while somehow keeping them sparklingly clean. He was still proud of that. He had landed right in his mother’s arms in time for a hug. She gave the best hugs.

     Today he slid out of his bed, still lanky, but this time barefooted, and slowly made his way through the dark house. But today, there was no knock. He splashed water on his face. 

     His mother's words from ten years ago echoed in his head. The knocking had become urgent.

     “Oh for heaven’s sake!” she said, “I’ll be right back, buttercup. Do not touch the cake.” 

     She had given Brandon a look of warning as he had moved toward the chocolate masterpiece. He had swiped a lick of frosting and paid no mind to her until a deep voice that was not his father’s rang through the house. Brandon still remembers being very confused and curious about who it could possibly be. His father had already stopped flying back for his birthday; he just couldn’t make the journey.

     Young Brandon had gotten a glimpse of a black suit and a man whose face was covered by dark glasses and jet black hair. He didn’t know it then but that man, Joel Pierce, would change his life. And sometimes, Brandon hated him for it.

Book 1 of Wars of the Soul, Fighter of the Fray, 2022

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