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The School for Non-Believers

By Ash P.

     Emilia had always tried her hardest to avoid make-believe.

As soon as she was old enough to read, her mother had shoved a textbook or biography onto every shelf in the house, instructing the first grader to never go near a library except to study. Emilia had taken her mother’s word as gospel from the moment she could understand speech, and saw no reason to disobey. When her classmates discussed the latest Percy Jackson book or exchanged Pokemon cards, she would scoff and stick her nose back into the latest biography her mother had instructed her to read. By the age of 10, she knew as much about US Presidents as her classmates knew about Harry Potter spells.

     And yet, against all odds, there they were. The three girls, identical in everything except age, looking almost ethereal in the early evening light. If she squinted and pressed her face against the window, Emilia could see their pristine Mary Janes hovering a couple inches above the pavement.

     Her mother put a hand on her shoulder. “I warned you about them, dear.”

     “I know, Mama,” Emilia sighed, picking up the suitcase by the door and looking back one more time at the pristine home scene she was leaving for the last time. Her mother stood at the center, hands clasped and resting on one hip. Her cat, named Winston after Winston Churchill, sat curled in his favorite corner of the armchair. His eyes were half-slitted, but as Emilia moved towards the door, she saw his pupils barely follow her.

     Her mother stepped forward and gave her a hug. “Be careful, dear. Remember what Harriet Beecher Stowe once said.”

     Out of habit, Emilia recited, “‘When you get into a tight place, and everything goes against you till it seems as if you couldn't hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that 's just the place and time that the tide will turn.’”

     “Very good.” Her mother ruffled her hair and smiled sadly. “Be my daughter and do me proud, Millie.”

     After returning her mother’s smile, Emilia took a deep breath and turned the doorknob.

     As she stepped out onto the stoop, she felt a pang in her chest. The moment her mother had opened the door to her room last night with a look of terror on her face, Emilia had known that she would be leaving her home. Still, the thought of leaving the place that she had grown up in carried a bitter taste. Her hands trembled around the handle of her suitcase, but she steeled herself and took a step forward.

     The girls smiled in unison as she crossed the street towards them. Their long black hair swayed slightly in the breeze and Emilia was reminded of  the classic ghost girls from the horror movies her peers often whispered about in class.

     The one in the middle spoke, her voice high pitched and childlike. “Hello, darling. So lovely to meet you at last.”

     “I’m not here to talk,” Emilia snarled. “You came here for a reason, so let’s get on with it. I don’t think Morgana would appreciate it if we were late.”

     The middle girl’s features twisted in anger and she moved to strike Emilia, but one of her sisters placed a hand on her shoulder. “The girl is right. We should be going.”

     “Very well.” The middle girl grasped Emilia’s free hand, squeezing it tightly. “I’m sure you know the incantation.”

     “Allegory metaphor, tomato angel tree. Take to the very place that I most want to be.” Emilia recited, squeezing her eyes tightly shut. She felt the other girl's’ hands grasp her free hand as a strong sense of vertigo swept over her. The ground disappeared beneath her feet and she had a short spurt of motion sickness before she felt the soles of her sneakers land on pavement. She opened her eyes slowly.

     A sprawling campus stretched out before her, dotted here and there with kids around her age or older. The girls stood in front of her in a semicircle, framed by older-looking buildings in the distance. A breeze wafted through her hair, smelling musty and mysterious.

     “Welcome,” the girls said in unison, “to the School for Nonbelievers.”

 

Forever Young

By Amrita B.

“Are you gonna hit me?” Hugo taunted.

I lunged for him wanting to wipe the smirk off his face.

“I bet your mommy will send you off to military school.”

I was about to punch Hugo in the nose when I looked down in surprise to see a short, dark haired girl standing between Hugo and me.

She didn’t say anything, but just stood there, staring at me. She had the bluest eyes I had ever seen, and her skin seemed to glow in the California sunshine.

“Jared!” I looked up to see three teachers running towards me.

When I turned around, the girl was gone, and I was left to deal with a very angry principal.

“Jared, this is the third altercation you’ve gotten yourself into this semester.”

Mrs. Miller said. “Your stepdad told me that if you got into one more fight, he would send you off to military school. Not to mention that your grades are way below average.” The phone rang loudly.

Mrs. Miller sighed. “I have to take this. Go back to class, I’ll deal with you later.”

***

“For this project you will be working in pairs. Cynthia, you’ll be with Greg. Jared you’re with Amelia.” Mr. Lockwood paused.

“I forgot. Everyone, this is Amelia. She is new here, so please make her feel welcome.”

I stood up looking for my partner and came face to face with the girl from the morning.

Up close, her eyes were bluer than I remembered.

“Jared and Amelia, your topic will be the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis.”

I nodded, knowing that getting this A would be my only chance of staying in Los Angeles.

“Jared, maybe you can show Amelia around school.” Mr. Lockwood suggested, patting my shoulder.

***

Two hours later, I led Amelia into the garden.

“Oh, look at all the flowers!” She gasped with delight.

I shrugged. It was just a garden.

“Look at the butterfly.” Amelia sighed, staring intently at a butterfly flitting around a bed of azaleas. “People try to catch them and study them, when all they want is to just be free.” Amelia’s expression became distant and a look of sadness came over her face. But just as quickly, the look disappeared and she smiled again. I heard laughter from behind me and I braced myself for Hugo and his cronies.

“There’s the new girl,” Monica, the most popular girl in school, giggled. “What is she wearing? Look, she’s hanging out with that freak, Jared. Better stay away from those two.” I felt the urge coming on again. Amelia placed her hand over my fist.

I exhaled, feeling myself calming down. Amelia pointed to a bench. “Come on, tell me about yourself.” I sat down next to her and we talked. I learned that her parents had died in a plane crash in the Arizona desert when she was young, much like my father had died in a car crash. She had been living with foster parents for many years and she moved around a lot.

***

Amelia and I hung out more over the next few days. She listened to me and offered advice. I wanted to confide in her and tell her everything about myself.

But, I sensed that there was something lingering underneath her calm persona. Often she would get a dreamy look on her face and mumble about “home.” I knew that she had a past and that there were things I didn’t understand about her.

Three days later, Amelia and I were in the park working on our physics project. Amelia seemed to know more than I did about physics, history, and pretty much everything.

I found myself staring at her intent face, her glossy black hair swaying in the autumn breeze and her long fingers moving diligently across the keyboard.

My thoughts were interrupted by the screech of a black car pulling up near us. Amelia looked up, a pained expression on her face.

Two men got out and walked over. “Amelia, it’s the day of your appointment.”  The man who spoke stared at me suspiciously. He was wearing dark sunglasses and a suit.

“Right now?” Amelia stared at me helplessly. I looked around confused.

“What’s going on?” I asked, suddenly feeling protective of Amelia.

“We’re working on a project right now.” Amelia spoke, her voice firm.

The second man sighed. “Okay, fine. He can come too and you two can work in the car.”

Amelia and I climbed into the car hastily. I was confused and I didn’t know if I should be in a stranger’s car but it was too late.

The car had heavily tinted windows. It worried me that I couldn’t see outside, but Amelia didn’t seem to care.

Forty-five minutes later, the car stopped.

We were ushered into a building. I found myself in an empty reception room. The two men whisked Amelia into an elevator. I scanned the room, unsure of what to do. The woman at the front desk looked up and smiled at me.

I sat down and waited.

Sooner or later, I got bored. I was looking for the bathroom when I overheard two women talking in a back room.  The tone of their voices made me curious.

“Poor kid.”

“I know. Project Bluefire has really got to stop. It’s just not right.”

The door opened and I raced back to the lobby.

Amelia’s appointment ended and I leapt up to greet her. A woman rushed over to her.

“Good job today. Your test results seem to be pretty good.” she seemed excited about something. “Are you going to the Halloween Parade on Friday?”

Amelia shrugged. “I don’t really like watching people pretend to be something they’re not.”

“Well, I think you should go. It’ll be fun.” she winked. “Watch out for the Space Invader!” Amelia winced and the woman looked immediately regretful.

I grabbed Amelia’s arm. We walked out to the front and climbed into the waiting car.

I turned to Amelia. “Are you okay, what happened?”

“Nothing, I have these checkups every so often.” I stared at her. It bothered me that she was hiding something.

“Why didn’t your parents take you? How did those men know where you were?” Amelia didn’t answer.

“What’s Project Bluefire?” A look of alarm flashed across her face.

“How do you know about that?” Her voice trembled.

“I heard the nurses talking about it.” I suddenly felt uncomfortable.

“Jared, listen to me. There are some things you can’t understand. Just drop it.”

We didn’t say anything for the rest of the ride home.

***

The next day at school I found Amelia waiting for me by my locker.

“Jared, I think I owe you an explanation. I have a condition that requires me to have regular checkups at the hospital.”

“What condition?” I asked.

Amelia was quiet for a long time. “It causes me to age really slowly.”

I considered this for a moment, not knowing what to make of it.

“How old are you?” I asked, bewildered.

“I am biologically 14, but . . . ” her voice trailed off.

“Jared, I’ve lived for 38 years.” She said quietly.

I stared at her incredulously. “You can’t be serious.”

I looked into Amelia’s face. It was to me the face of a 14-year-old girl not a 38-year-old woman.

“You are 14, Amelia, the same age as me.” I said.

We walked, a strange silence hanging between us.

***

Upon reaching home I grabbed my computer. I searched for health conditions that caused slow aging but nothing came up.  The phrase Project Bluefire came to my mind and on a whim, I decided to do a quick search.

All I could get were construction projects and power companies. But as I continued to scroll the results, I stumbled on a blog written by sci-fi enthusiasts. The first few paragraphs mentioned UFO sightings. Then I came upon something that made me pause.

We all remember the crash of 1982. We all believe it. Our government is covering Arizona up. We know the leaks about Project Bluefire. There were survivors and their lifespan is far beyond our own. They are out there.

I puzzled over this. 1982. Arizona. Didn’t Amelia mention that her parent’s plane had crashed in the Arizona desert when she was a young child? If that was in1982, it would make her about 38 years old today.

I stayed up for a long time thinking this over.

The next day at school, I confronted Amelia.

“I know what Project Bluefire is.”

Her face dropped.

“Amelia.” I spoke softly. “Who are you?”

“I don’t know.” Amelia got up and walked away.

My mind was spinning in a million different directions.

I couldn’t take my mind off Amelia so I went to her house after school.

“Hey.”

She refused to look me in the eye.

“Look, I don’t care what you are, okay? I like you. I haven’t known you that long, but I feel like we’ve connected. I’ve never had any friends and I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.”

“Really?”

I held her hand and looked down at our entwined fingers.

“The Halloween Parade is tomorrow. You want to go?” I grinned.

She smiled and laid her head on my shoulder.

“Totally.”

Something came to my mind.

“Tell me. Why do they want to do tests on you?”

“They want to study my DNA to find a cure for human aging. ”

My mouth dropped open. “Wow, an entire race of people who age slowly.” Amelia nodded sadly.

“Do you consider yourself lucky?”

“No. Do you know how hard it is to stay frozen in time while everybody around you grows older?”

We sat there, for I don’t know how long, and talked. I realized that she was aching for home. I made a silent vow that I would do whatever it took to help her find her way home.

But, somebody else was already one step ahead of me.

***

On Friday evening, Amelia and I went downtown. The plaza was crowded and a full moon loomed. Kids in costumes were racing around grabbing candy at every opportunity. I spotted a popcorn vendor in a space alien costume handing out samples to a swarm of young children. As we passed, the vendor spoke out.

“How about you young lady? Don’t you want a treat?”

I cringed, not knowing how Amelia would react to this.

I gave Amelia a small nudge. The vendor reached into a side pocket and produced a piece of candy in a pink wrapper. Amelia’s face lit up and she dropped the candy into her bucket.

“Come on!” We raced across the plaza.

Back at my house we dumped our piles off candy on the living room floor.

Amelia stared at the candy in the pink wrapper. She picked it up and unwrapped it. Then she gasped as a small, black bracelet fell into her hand. The bracelet had a tiny screen on the front like the face of a watch. As Amelia held it, I could see squiggly lines moving across it. It was unlike any bracelet I had seen before.

The next morning Amelia called me anxiously.

“The bracelet!” She exclaimed breathlessly. “I wore it to sleep last night and I woke up in the middle of the night with a strange feeling. I walked out into the backyard and I just stood staring at the night sky. It was like the bracelet was sending off vibes.”

“Weird.”

“Jared, I think I have to go.” Her voice ached.

“Wait. What do you mean you have to go?”

“I think I’m being summoned. I recognize the bracelet. When I was younger it was brought up in one of my appointments. It was among the wreckage after the crash. But they could never figure it out.”

“Who’s summoning you?” I asked.

Amelia did not answer. “Jared, I will come over later. I’ll need your help.” she hung up.

***

That evening Amelia and I stood in front of my garage.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” Amelia replied. “The bracelet guides me. Do you have a bike or something?”

I glanced at my stepdad’s motorcycle in the corner.

“I have something better.” I handed Amelia a helmet, not able to contain the grin spreading across my face.

Amelia looked scared. “Are you sure about this?”

“Yeah. Just hold on tight.” I slid the keys in and we were off. I knew that we were too young to be racing on a motorcycle at night, but we needed to get wherever we were going fast.

The bracelet was taking us far away from town.

As we approached a desolate field, Amelia’s bracelet was literally alive with movement.

“This is it.” Amelia sighed.

I stared at the field, a realization dawning on me.

“Amelia, I don’t want you to go.”

Amelia looked into my eyes, her face flushed.

“Jared, you have to let me go.”

“But—” I pleaded, racking my brain for anything I could say to make her stay, but I knew there was nothing. Amelia could never really belong here, and we both knew it.

We both scanned the sky. The faint light in the distance looked like another star but as we watched, it grew brighter.

The spacecraft landed with a soft thump. It was unbelievably tiny, no larger than a bumper car in Disneyland.

Amelia smiled wistfully.

“Bye Jared.” She climbed aboard.

“Bye Amelia.” I whispered, something tugging at my heart.

I stood there watching the light grow faint until all that remained was a night sky full of stars and a dark empty field before me.

I headed back home and was parking the motorcycle in the garage when the screech of a car’s brakes broke the silence. Two men in black suits raced up to me.

“Where is she?” One of them demanded urgently.

“She’s gone.” I replied.

“What do you mean she’s gone?”

“Amelia’s back where she belongs.” I said quietly.

“The bracelet . . . ” the other man started to say, a despairing look on his face.

“Yes,” I nodded.

“Look. Whatever you think you know, it doesn’t mean anything. Nobody will ever believe you.”

I shrugged. The men turned to leave.

I felt exhausted and longed for sleep. But, the light around me was changing. The moonlight had given way to something else. I looked at the horizon and found myself staring at a beautiful, pink and orange sunset.

I glanced at my watch. It was past midnight.

The words from our physics report came to me. It’s a rare occurrence to see the Northern Lights in Los Angeles. They can generally be seen around midnight.

I was overcome by a sense of wonder and then almost immediately, a pang of regret as I realized that I was experiencing the Aurora Borealis alone, without Amelia.

Then I smiled, because I knew that wherever Amelia was in the vast, mysterious universe, she was smiling too.

 

Exit Exam

Amrita B.

  Doctor Meyers stared at the man sitting in front of him. Dawson Redrick wasn’t a particular skinny or attractive man. Years of prison and drawn-out trials would do that to someone. He had a big nose, a beard and beady eyes. But, on this sunny afternoon in May, Dawson Redrick felt like it was the happiest day of his life. It was the day he was to walk free after finally being acquitted of his brother’s murder. But, he had one more test left. Exit Exam, they called it. A simple exam to test blood pressure and heartbeat, among other things. 

            “Mr. Redrick, how are you feeling today?” Doctor Meyers asked, writing something down on his clipboard that Dawson couldn’t see. 

            “Today is the best day of my life. I am finally going to join my wife and family again.” Redrick replied. Doctor Meyers nodded politely, gazing around the room. It was a standard size room with a cream colored ceiling containing a single table and two metal chairs. Doctor Meyers had sat in this exact chair hundreds of times, administering the same test and holding the same clipboard. Today’s test was no different. 

            “How old is your son?” Doctor Myers questioned. 

            “He will be thirteen next month. I’m hoping to plan a party for him.” Dawson continued excitedly. “I can’t believe it is finally happening.” A single tear rolled down Dawson’s cheek. Doctor Meyers could feel his eyes becoming wet too. 

            Doctor Meyers had been working at the Norfolk County Prison for years. The court system wasn’t always just, and the Doctor never knew if his patients had committed the crime. He never asked, and he told himself that it didn’t matter. He assured himself that it was the system, and the system had to be obeyed. But, he wasn’t the only person who felt that the justice system had more to do with which lawyer could twist the truth than righteousness. 

“Mr. Redrick, I am going to administer a simple test. We want to make sure you are healthy before we turn you lose.” Doctor Meyers explained. The door opened and a blonde nurse walked in, wheeling a machine attached to a few wires. 

“Please sit still while the nurse wires you up.” Dawson obediently sat straight while the nurse attached wires to his arm. 

“What’s going to happen?” Dawson asked. He wasn’t trying to cause any trouble; he was merely curious. But, Doctor Meyers took it as an insult. 

“Please just sit still.” The doctor ordered harshly. Dawson looked down at the wires attached to his body. There were four wires connected to a large machine that resembled an oversized radio. A circle in the middle of the machine appeared to resemble a button. Dawson had never seen anything like it before, but he didn’t think much of it. He had been in jail for almost a decade. Technology and machinery had changed since then. 

The nurse finished wiring the man up and exited the room. The door shut loudly behind her, and the room was quiet. The doctor wiped away the tears that were threatening to burst. Dawson didn’t seem to notice. 

This was it, Doctor Meyers thought. 

“Hold still.” The doctor demanded one last time. “This is the last test, and then you will be free.” With a reluctant sigh, Doctor Meyers pushed the large button on the top of the machine.  

There was a moment of silence, and then Dawson’s eyes widened in shock. His veins bulged in his arm, and he tried desperately to speak. But when he opened his mouth, nothing came out. 

Doctor Meyers watched him sadly. “I’m sorry,” He whispered. 

A look of surprise appears on Dawson Redrick’s face, and then the man slumped over dead. The doctor gazed at his clipboard and read the words on the paper. 

 

Dawson Redrick- Convicted, death penalty by lethal injection on May 17, 2048

 

Quickly, Doctor Meyers checked off a box next to the man’s name.  

The blonde nurse came back in and sighed. 

“He was so happy,” She murmured, as she bent down to clean up the mess. 

Doctor Meyers swallowed hard and gripped the table to stop from passing out. He thought of all the trophies and certificates that sat on a shelf in his office. He was one of the most esteemed doctors in all of Norfolk county. Yet, he couldn’t stop the tears rolling down his cheeks. 

“It’s better this way,” He said, although he wasn’t sure if he was talking to the nurse or merely reassuring himself. The practice had occurred for decades. Although it was necessary to execute criminals, they could at least be spared the detrimental horror of knowing they were about to be executed. 

Doctor Meyers scanned his clipboard. He only had a few more patients left until he could go back to his own wife and thirteen year old son. 

He wandered out to the waiting room. A girl, no more than 16 years old, sat in a chair calmly smoothing her hair. The doctor recalled that she had been convicted of killing her best friend. Next to her, a little boy licked a lollipop and watched TV on the big screen hanging on the wall. He had been convicted for killing his parents in cold blood. The boy turned to Doctor Meyers and grinned happily. A man walked by drinking a cup of coffee. The doctor had read about his case in the newspaper. He was one of the biggest drug dealers in Mexico and had tortured and killed dozens of innocent people. He had been on the FBI’s Most Wanted List for more than seventeen years. 

The doctor scoured the room- a room full of people who thought they were all going home. The irony was painful, but it was what had to be done. 

With a heavy sigh, Doctor Meyers searched the room for his next patient. 

“Quinn Abbott?” 

The little boy with the lollipop jumped up, dropped his candy in the trash and followed Doctor Meyers into the exam room.

 

Live Again - Part Two

By Alex R.

A week ago, I walked down the street on the northern end of the city, my shoes splashing through puddles. I had worn a heavy jacket in an attempt to keep from getting soaked, but the pounding rain had penetrated every layer of clothing I had on. My mother wasn’t going to be happy. But then, she never was.

My parents lived north of city center with all the upper-class people. Classy apartments and huge, mansion-like homes surrounded me. After spending the last few hours on the shady end of town, the excess disgusted me. I could hardly believe I grew up here. My parents’ home was nestled behind several others in a clump of maple and dogwood trees. Out here, the ruckus of traffic was a mere dream, and the distant skyscrapers glistened under the light of the gray sky. Rain stung my eyes as I looked up at the huge house.

It was surrounded by a black metal gate like those surrounding a prison or the terrible institution I spent two years inside. The lawn, perfectly manicured into a green carpet, sloped toward a grove of trees. No weeds dared spring up in the Fall wasteland of neat gardens, and, if one did, it was quickly plucked by one of the groundskeepers. I walked up the path to the three-story Tudor house with my hands in my pockets, hoping my presents hadn’t gotten too wet. One nearly fell out when I was exploring an old drug nest, and I’d tucked them as deep into my jacket as I could.

I ambled up the front steps to the large red door. The brass knocker glinted, cold and heavy, but I knocked with my fist instead.

First, I heard calm footsteps on the other side of the door, then an explosion of shouts, squeals, and plastic shoes clacking on wood. The door swung open.

Lucy beamed up at me. My sister was seven years old and the only one of us with blond hair. Her golden fleece fell in long, shiny curls, and her angular face was pinched in a smile. “Jack!” She threw her arms around my waist. The man who was about to answer the door stood nearby, looking purposeless. My mother must have hired a new butler, because I don’t recognize this one. 

“Hi, String-bean,” I said with a laugh, grabbing her under the arms and spinning her around.

She exploded into giggles. “Bubby! Bubby, you’re wet! You’re going to get me dirty!”

I put Lucy down and surveyed her outfit. She wore a skirt and blouse combo far too stylish for her age. I crouched in front of her, frowning. “What’s with this get-up? Did mama make you wear it?”

She nodded, spinning back and forth so the skirt swished around her knees. “Yes, but look, I picked my shoes.”

That much was obvious. They were cheap, pink, and clashing, and I loved that she’d worn them. “They look very nice.” I straightened with a warm smile. “I got you a present, String-bean.”

“A present?” she echoed eagerly. “Can I have it?”

I chuckled, ruffling her hair. “Soon. Is Aiden here?”

She nodded, skipping back into the house. “He’s in the living room! C’mon!”

I followed, trying not to let the house darken my mood. It was beautiful on the inside, with expensive wood paneling and art from all over the world and glass sculptures on little wooden tables. A thick incense perfumed the air. My parents were always eager to flaunt their wealth. But all I saw when I looked around was a prison filled with bad memories.

Courtney’s house was only a block down. The thought struck a blow to my heart, and I took a deep breath. If not for the fact that I wanted to see my siblings, I never would have come here.

The butler tried to take my soaked jacket, but I murmured a, “Thanks but no thanks,” and walked past him.

Aiden lay across the couch in the living room, reading, and my mother was on the phone in the next room. I couldn’t see her, but I recognized her fluttering, twittering voice – the one she used when she was speaking with the press or one of her fans. My mother came from new money and my father from old. My father – William O’Dair – was the CEO of a pharmaceutical company in the city. For a time, my mother worked in the company, but now Bianca O’Dair was a model for several magazines and one of America’s current darlings. She had called days ago, inviting me to dinner, and I came so I could visit my siblings. I desperately hoped that they hadn’t invited a bunch of work associates.

She liked to show us off like the dolls in her toy-box.

Lucy flitted into the room ahead of me and called, “Jack’s here!”

Aiden looked up after a moment and laughed, letting the book rest in his lap. “What the hell happened to you?”

I grinned. I was soaked to the bone, and an hour ago, when I’d been chased out of a shady building by several drug dealers, I’d slipped in the mud.

“It’s a little wet out there,” I said.

Aiden glanced at the window, as if noticing the pouring rain for the first time. Like me, he could disappear into a book for hours and become totally oblivious to the world. “So, how are things in the underworld?” 

I smirked at him, folding my arms. Like the others, he hadn’t accepted my death, but at least he never tried to attack my reality. It was little more than a private joke between the two of us, but he was the only one who knew my “delusion” still existed. I’d had to fake it in order to escape that wretched institution.

“Cold, Aiden. Very cold.”

“Jack brought presents!” Lucy chimed, rocking on her heels.

Aiden stared at her in contemplation, then said, “Lucy, have you showed Jack your new Barbie yet?”

Her eyes grew round, and she took off across the house to retrieve it. Aiden shook his head, then looked at me through those intelligent eyes. I’d always known Aiden was going to be the successful one out of the three of us. He was too smart for his own good. “You’re late, too,” the words were slow and calculated. “Were you out looking for Courtney again?”

I bristled defensively. “What if I was?”

He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter to me. But mom will flip if she finds out.”

They were in denial. Everyone, including the police, insisted she was dead, but I refused to believe it. The night we were attacked, they took her away, and I knew they were keeping her alive somewhere.

Just then, I heard my mother hang up the phone and walk into the room. She had the look of a woman that lived on celery and air. An elegant red and gold dress hung from her slender shoulders, and her glossy black hair was pulled back in a meticulous bun. Her face reminded me of a China Doll – white, perfect, and utterly fake.

She was a doll, and she wanted to turn us into them too. She wanted to suck the life and truth out of us until we were nothing but pretty husks.

She took one look at me and issued a shocked gasp. “Jack, you’re soaked! Why are you so dirty?”

I rolled my eyes at the look of concern on her face. Every time I was the least bit rumpled, she immediately thought I was having a fit. I swear, she’s still looking for an excuse to put me back in that institution.

“Dunno,” I drawled. “Maybe I decided to take a mud bath. It’s what all the other zombies are doing nowadays.” 

“Jack!” she scolded, taking a step forward. She looked like she wanted to help me out of my wet clothes but, at the same time, didn’t want to touch me. “We have guests coming in fifteen minutes!”

“Well, I guess I’ll have to stay out of sight then.”

Her red, painted lips were pressed together in a pout. “I wanted you to...”

“To what?” I demanded. “To come and pose? To be a prop in your dollhouse? I just wanted to visit, not to come play the game.”

She was about to reply when Lucy returned, waving her Barbie through the air. “Look, bubby! See? Look at her pretty dress!”

I crouched in front of her and held it in my long fingers. The doll was blond and thin and perfect, and she reminded me of my mother. “That’s very nice, String-bean.”

Lucy took the Barbie back and turned to our mother, beaming. “Jack brought presents!”

Lines of suspicion carved across her flawless face, giving her winkles. “That’s nice of you, Jack,” she said cryptically. “Where did you get the money?”

“I have a job,” I growled. But I knew her skepticism was well-grounded. Ever since I’d emerged from the institution, I’d struggled with small, vital things – holding down a job, keeping my apartment in order, sleeping regularly. Sometimes I even forgot tasks like brushing my teeth or bathing. “I’m working at a fast food place in city center.”

The thought clearly revolted her, but she said nothing.

I rifled through my pocket and produced a small, soggy paper bag. Somewhat disappointed in myself, I handed it to Lucy. “Sorry, String-bean. I didn’t think it’d get so wet.”

Lucy opened it, peered inside, and grinned. I’d filled the bag with candy. “Thanks, Bubby!” She ran off, knowing she would have to eat it while I was here so our mother didn’t take it away. Ever since I could remember, she had been obsessed with keeping us slim. Candy was scrutinized at best and forbidden at worst.

My mother took a long breath, painted a smile on her face, and said, “Your father is in the dining room. You should say hello.”

I could hear people arriving in the driveway. I wasn’t going anywhere near that crowd. “I’ll wait until everyone is gone.”

She shrugged, surrendering, and walked out of the room.

“Thank goodness!” Aiden slumped against the couch, unbuttoning his jacket. A gawky grin bloomed across his face. “If you’re here, mom won’t make us sit out there all night.”

I issued a sharp laugh, then pulled a wet book out of my pocket and tossed it to him. “Here.”

Aiden frowned, then picked it up and smiled. It was the most recent Stephen King book. Our mother disapproved of them, but we’d always managed to smuggle them into the house, consuming them in less than a week. Aiden ran his fingers over the smooth cover lovingly, looking up to meet my gaze with warmth in his eyes. Then he tucked it beneath his jacket without saying a word.

We knew one another well enough that we didn’t verbal extravagance.

Lucy bounded back over to us when she realized our mother was gone, chocolate already smeared on her lips. “I’m hungry!”

I chuckled. “Let’s go get some food, then!”

We sneaked into the kitchen, stifling giggles, and took what we wanted of the feast. After that, we built a fort of blankets and pillows across the living room and ate there like we used to before my accident. As we watched television, laughing and chattering like drunken fools, I wished it could stay that way forever...

 

Steps into Space - A History

By Owen L.

T     he origins of our great empire date back to the world of the ancients, for they lived in a society that we would call primitive and bizarre. All 10 nonillion of us are united under the empire and are spread across millions of planets, but during this time all of the humans lived on the planet Earth. These people also did not have a planetwide government, but rather over 150 separate states all of which governed themselves and frequently went to war with each other. Also, while many countries were very advanced for their time, some lacked healthcare, clean water, power or a proper sewage system, meaning that many of the people Earth were starving, sick and just unhealthy. 

     Finally after hundreds of years of this violent cruel world, Jenny Alden isolated an antimatter particle through a process known as gravitational removal. Basically, she pulled the particles that give weight out of an atom and made this new substance, but when she did it instantly exploded and sent a powerful electric shock through her assistant John Holt. As Holt was being taken to a nearby hospital she realized that the shock could be tapped as a source of energy and that it could be used for power. After a year of testing, she built the first ACCR (Antimatter in Chamber Condensed Reactor) and managed to power over ten cities with this one reactor. As time passed the reactors replaced all other energy sources and was powering the world, but this was not the end to the uses of the reactor. Over the next five years the reactors kept getting smaller and smaller until they could be used not only for powering cities but planes and rockets. NASA (a government program from a country known as the United States) built a  car powered by an ACCR and put it on a paved five mile straight to see the power of this new energy source. The fastest speed ever recorded on this strait was 200 mph, and the engineers thought that this vehicle might reach 250 mph, but it would be nothing groundbreaking. But the exact opposite happened, when the car started down the straight, it hit one-hundred mph in a mere two seconds and broke the sound barrier by mile two. When the driver was forced to bail out of the vehicle it was going nearly 2000 mph. However, the car was never recovered -- without the driver's input ,the reactor had a meltdown and the car was vaporized in a 1000 degree fireball. After this, the driver Alfred Schweinsteiger was declared a national hero and is the one credited with starting we now call The Second Space Age.

     Soon thereafter, many other countries including Russia, China, the EU India, Japan, Korea and many others had similar straights and where building faster and smaller land vehicles. At this point each time a country tested one new car it would break several records however, many of these vehicles failed and as a result over 200 drivers were killed. After years on the ground the reactors finally hit a point where a state of the art ACCR could power an plane and, with the power and efficiency, could reach escape velocity and make it into space. This was a major discovery because during that time under 1,000 people had been into space. This was due to the overwhelming inefficiency of the space vehicles at the time known as “rockets”. These gargantuan vessels were quite expensive as they relied on flying straight up in order to reach space. These rockets could also only be used once and they would create a lot of waste in the form of fuel tanks that were carelessly ejected and fell back the Earth, some of which burned up in the atmosphere, while others fell to the ground and destroyed anything that they landed on. After the first of a series of test flights which proved that the ACCR could survive the G-forces of leaving the atmosphere the US began work on upgrading the ISS (International Space Station) so that it could service craft that would one day go to other planets and moons. Although the ISS technically belonged to every country, the US took it over as no other nation wanted this piece of junk. And, seeing that there would be competition for space and the resources on planets that they one day planned to visit many of these great nations had formed alliances.

     There was the WMA (Western Military Alliance) which included most of North America, the EU and Oceania. There also was the PAC (Pan-Asian Coalition) which was made up of the Russia, China, India, North Korea and several middle eastern countries. And last, there was the ETP (Eastern Treaty Pact) made up of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other countries in southeast Asia.  The first groups to make it into space where the WMA and the PAC, but soon afterwards the ETP was also up there. Not long after this all of these groups had space stations all with a permanent population of people living on them. During this time the PAC briefly considered weaponizing their station in the event that they were attacked by the WMA or the ETP, but they ultimately trashed the idea as it would cost too much to convert their current armies to be ready to fight in space. Then, the PAC sent a small group of 8 astronauts to Mars and were the first people to land on another planet. The first person to set foot was Vladimir Sokolov. After that they began work on identifying possible mining opportunities. Finally after hundreds of soil samples and ground scans they came upon europium. Europium is a metal that when made into isotopes can allow for making heavier and thus more reactive antimatter atoms and make more powerful ACCRs. When the ETP and the WMA discovered this they immediately sent over their own colonizing forces, this caused the PAC to become threatened and they finally decided to weaponize their stations. As each group started mining they also began to colonize other planets. The WMA built the first colonies on Venus and used the insane temperatures to make various metal products and new alloys stronger than steel. And the ETP went to Saturn to mine the rings of this great planet. All of the groups got along quite well, there was trade and the economy on Earth was on a rise from all of the industry. But then, after decades of peace and growth there was a sudden shock. The WMA built had the first ACB (Antimatter Composite Bomb) and detonated it on the earth's Moon, although the size of this bomb was very small compared to the ones we have today the flash from it was enough to be seen from earth. After this insane discovery, all of the groups weaponized and the tensions continued to rise as the planets were heavily colonized and disputes over resources began to occur, and finally, the tension snapped, and war was declared.