This is the first in a short series of stories, called the Conundrum Series. its about people in an alternate time and place finding hope from the most outrageous place imaginable. Many times things happen that cant be explained...but what if they happened to YOU? Could you smile and leave it go. Or try forever to figure out what happened? Lets see what other people would do in that situation, or if they had a choice that is.

Frank’s Conundrum

Chapter 1: Taking a little Break

Frank Jackson was a normal kid of 16. He went to United High School and had a few good friends. The school was one of those where people from all classes and families went, it was more of a prep school for later on than an actual school of higher learning.

It taught the usual things, Math, Science, and Social Studies. So nothing really different enough to consider it better or worse than any other.It was, by definition, a boring average place but many there were only waiting on the tests that would show them where they would go from here.

Frank was not one of those people though, his future would be driving truck, or working construction, or some skilled labor job, since no one in his Family had ever gone on to a good college, mainly because tuition was extremely expensive.

Knowing this up front was both bothering and enlightening, since Frank it or not...that he was stuck in his lower class life. He was forced to admit it to himself, and just smile and go on. Sure he would graduate from high school get a job, fall in Love and have kids, which probably would do the same as him, or join the military for the free education, something he had been offered but refused because killing people for a living just wasn’t in his future.

They made up high and mighty excuses of course...its a Noble Occupation, it protects your Country from outsiders, its needed for your safety and the safety of us all...and the list went on and on. But to Frank the military were robots that did what they were told, one person of authority could point their finger at a country or group and BANG! “Kill those today”...and you were forced to do it...hopefully without thinking about it too much.

When religious people got involved and said that God had rules against killing...people just pointed to someone else..’the General orders it and we must obey, its not on us its on him’ or ‘ the Order came from the top, so we have to do it, its not on us at all’ and on and on. Like God took excuses when he was judging those that fall in battle, but Frank had always hoped he did, because people can be trained to listen and obey, and those higher ups were saying the same thing, ‘we order them they do it, its on them for listening’ and Frank had long ago stopped listening to any of this.

Country against Country, war after war, that was how it had been for centuries and he wanted to stay well away from all that. He lived in a medium sized city, nothing too impressive compared to others, but he liked it. He had friends and even a girl or two he liked, and as he got older he was sure he’d settle down here like everyone else.

It was just getting to be time for exams, a time when many worked diligently to get their grades up so they could get into a better school or college, but he wasn’t worried about that. His dad barely made enough to pay the bills.So going to a decent school after this one was more of a pipe dream than reality.

Many good schools cost 50-100k a year, and that was soo very far from his Reality that it wasn’t even funny. So he wasn’t going to even try, because then he had no reason to Hope.

But today he was on an outing, riding his motor bike into the countryside and just getting out for a while. He put this old clunker together from parts some friends gave him. It was a 175cc Honda Road and Trail, and it wasn’t too bad for what it was made for. It could cruise along a highway for miles at 70 or so, and then slow down and go out through the fields or woods just as easy. He liked that...Freedom to choose...and he smiled as he road along looking at the scenery and stopping to look into a stream for fish or some other animals he might see.

He stopped to get a drink from a can of soda he brought along and off in the distance he saw a tiny bit of smoke, and his curiosity got the better of him. So he road that way for a mile or so and he found a small camp, with a tiny campfire and an old man sitting there poking the fire with a stick, on a day almost too warm to think such a thing. He stopped a few meters away and got off the bike as the old man looked up and smiled.

“You lost?” Frank asked as the man just laughed and went on poking the fire.

“Are you? What are you doing way out here?” he got asked as he just smiled too and sat down on a rock beside the fire.

“I like to get away once in a while. My life is pretty boring most times.” Franks said and didn’t know why he was even talking to this old hermit, but it seemed easy to do.

“Your getting bored with this world I suppose, it happens sometimes.” The old man hinted as even Frank agreed.” Not studying for the tests today?” he asked, as Frank just laughed saying his future was set in stone, and getting a good education or going to some high priced college wasn’t in it for him.

“So... you wish for a different World where you could live a better, more prosperous Life then?” he asked as Frank had to think about that, and finally he agreed.

“I don’t want to be a failure my whole life, I want to be able to help my father when he gets older, and not live hand to mouth forever.” Frank admitted and it looked like he might cry any minute.

“Life is a balancing act son...” The old man hinted as Frank sat there, spellbound by his words.” for things to change... it might get better...or worse.” he added sadly as Frank agreed, not even knowing why.

“I wouldn’t want the entire world to change, just me and my life.” Frank admitted as the man nodded seriously and after a minute he looked up and smiled.

“Here take this...” he said and handed Frank a neckless, or amulet or something hanging on a leather cord. Frank took it and looked it over, it seemed simple enough, a circle maybe an inch across, made of some rock or something, green and shiny and he tried to hand it back saying it had to be worth a lot and he couldn’t take it.

“You keep it for me, I don’t need it anymore. If I ever want it back I’ll come get it... just promise me until then you’ll keep it with you at all times.” he said seriously, and Frank nodded and agreed and put it around his neck and dropped it inside his shirt.”You better get back, things can get dangerous out here after dark.” The old man said and Frank got on his bike and ran home at best speed...and he didn’t even know why.

Chapter 2: What the Hell??

Frank got home just before dark and put the bike away. He went inside to see his sister giving him the evil eye for getting back soo late.

“Well I suppose I COULD feed you since you’re home now.” She added while sitting the table, and his dad got a good laugh at the two of them fighting. “You never take me out riding with you, why not?” She grumped, but her dad was quick to say that leaving the city was too dangerous...and he hoped Frank would stop doing it too.

“Now that you’re back, eat some dinner and get to studying, I bet you haven’t cracked a book all week have you?” he added seriously as Frank just smiled. It wasn’t like it was going to help him anyways.

“And remember, after the first set of Skill Tests you need to be ready for the Magical Exams too. You damn well better do better this year, I’ve been standing up for you with my friends after that poor showing last year.” Sherry declared as Frank almost choked on his food.

“The what?” He asked as she threw her head back and looked at the ceiling like someone was watching and she was talking to them.

“Stop harassing your sister and finish eating, and I’m going to check on you to see that you’re studying tonight too!” James said and Frank just nodded and shoveled his food in as fast as possible and went up to his room.

“What is going on?” he thought, and after a second he got out his backpack and inside he found books on Math, Science and...Magical Theory... and he felt faint. ‘This... wasn’t in here yesterday,’ he thought, and Sherry said he failed it last year too?? “What the Hell??” he whispered, and finally figured he needed to know what was happening, so he jumped in front of his computer and started searching and page after page told him about Magic, a skill one in 10 people have and use, and the reason Magicians are needed so badly was because after the Great War 100 years ago, radiation and germs dropped during attacks mutated animals and some people, and turned the world outside the protected cities into war zones, with animals attacking and even eating anything they could catch.

“My God...” Frank whispered as his door opened and his dad stuck his head in and smiled widely.

“OH my God! Frank is actually studying today, Sherry come quick!” he yelled as Frank turned and gave them both a dirty look and they closed the door and ran away laughing loudly. Obviously he was supposed to be an idiot or something, but that changed today, because he needed to know why things had changed so fast, because none of this made any sense.

“This isn’t the History I remember.” he whispered to himself, and after reading a while he sat back in a stupor, staring at the ceiling and day dreaming about what he had read. A war between all the countries of the world, 100 years ago? What date was it anyways? And the computer said it was 105 AW (after the war) and he looked a bit overwhelmed.

“It was 2021 just yesterday..” he thought but obviously that wasn’t true,and he saw why Sherry was worried about him, until today he was living in his own little world... but no longer.

He opened up the Magical Theory book and started to read. It mentioned the changes to people after the War, the genes that got twisted, and the changes that occurred. Magic was well known as a fantasy until 50 years ago then people started being born with strange powers. The first kid , now named Student 1, was a baby girl who could reach out and pull things towards her when she wanted...driving her poor parents crazy for a while... until tests showed why she had such a power. Then one after another the first generation was born, and got important jobs with the government at first, then as their numbers grew private corporations started just to give them jobs, even police forces had teams working with them for control over mad animals that ventured into the city from the countryside from time to time.

The regular Police Force handled most cases but on a rare occasion animals the size of trucks would fight there way in, and even pistols and riot guns wouldn’t stop them, but a person with Magical abilities could, Fire, Wind, Water, Earth, all forces to be reckoned with, and one person with a hand that threw flames a hundred feet could kill a lot of Rats, even if they were running in packs and each was 6 feet long.

“Unbelievable.” Frank said as he sat back to think again, and Sherry came in with a small plate with donuts on it, all smiles and gave him a snack ‘to study on’ and she hugged him saying she knew he could do it...and he thanked her and went back to studying.

If any of this was true, and he couldn’t dispute it anymore, then the world was a violent place, at least outside the citys where animals ran wild. But with careful planning and some solid police work things were calm and peaceful here and in other ‘Sanctuary Cities’ around the globe.

The 8 billion people he thought he knew about... were now 25 million...all in cities around the world being protected by Magical Users. He wondered when he finally saw the truth, and he couldn’t even remember when. But he saw it now, and he went on studying deep into the night as Sherry and her dad sat watching tv and smiling and asked if that was really her worthless brother up there, and James laughed saying he must have finally decided to give it a serious try...or maybe he found some girl well above him in class...and he needed to catch up quickly.

“Like that’ll ever happen.” Sherry added, and she finally smiled because her brother was stepping into the Future, and she was happy for him.

Frank studied well into the night and finally fell asleep on his desk and the screen was still blinking from time to time. He dreamed of a world where people lived without fear and the countryside was open and clear of troubles. But that wasn’t this world, and as he thought that the little green circle glowed and with it his whole body, and for the first time since he got home he couldn’t remember what he was thinking, and he slept soundly until morning.