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Anemia Glitz Sam Pyles

Lost, Trapped, Saved

1. They’re closing in. I swear the treetops are trying to smother me. It’s dark. Damp. And they’re everywhere. Shooting up from the ground in graceful swoops. I can hear the water thumping, a monotone bass flirting in the back of my ears, while the screeches of birds and the schizophrenic chirps of the insects break sticks across my eardrum, a natural metal tune. Husks peel back to spring up monster trees. I think they might be harboring bombs. Missiles peaked for launch. The roots are surging up, tripping me up. Was I here already? Everywhere is just green. Just green. Just green. Two. The intoxicating smells attack simultaneously, barrage my nostrils. I try to clutch the air. Breathe deeply. Capture the scent in a taste. A new sensation. I spin, surrounded by smells of wonder. Then octopus tentacles shoot up from the ground. I hadn’t noticed them. Laced with sharp points, they pierce. They surround me. Bulbous formations of intense glass colors rise from the ground and curve and explode in the woods around me. the dazzling hues keep me off balance, holding me. Keeping me. Neon unfolds from a bush, blazing violently violet. They invade all forms of natural life. They invade my mind and warp my perception. They invade my consciousness. They invade. III. Ghastly plants shade themselves in black, drinking from a lake of oil. Everlasting orchids make Wonka proud. I think they might be preparing for a wedding; thick moss veils dangle over the brides and grooms. Or perhaps a funeral, I noticed some trees were weeping.

It’s nice to see that even plants have their beggars, some orchids come equipped with pouches. They last through winter’s frost. They last through everything but a blade They last with a certain style and grace. They last. Four. I want to weave amongst the colors. The lower levels have to flaunt them loud and proud to receive any attention. I think it’s starting to work. I care more about them than the towering giants. I’d like to see an orange Kopek tree. Why do you mother the understory, but kill the lowest? Why do you cover fungi in darkness? Why do you snuggle the meek? Why? 5. Sitting amongst the natural is calming, even though the century plant and the flytrap are ready to grab and attack. Constant wisps of mist keep the senses alert. Spice can’t capture the tastes of the forest. Light sparsely drizzled on leaves entice dreams to sweep through. Masters training plants into miniatures. A cougar calls and worlds collide. Up high, I can barely breathe. The trees are old and smell of musk. Rescue me from this maze. Rescue me from capturing a taste. Rescue me from this invasion. Rescue me from this dangerous beauty. Rescue me. VI. The tree coddles me in its limbs. I sink down lower into it and curl up against its massive body and fall gently to sleep. Table of Contents

Lost, Trapped, Saved Writer’s Statement Drama Prison of Books Ups And Downs Fiction A Tale of Agatha Blaine The Ghaust of the Fantomic Nonfiction Watermelon The Linden Years Poetry You Think It’s For The Children? Morning The Proposal By The Waterfall Dreaming Daymare Watermelons Friday Midnights

Writer’s Statement

Writing has been a habit, a passion, and a calming method for me. Over the years, I’ve written pieces in many different styles. My work ends up this way because when I write, I just sit down and start writing. I don’t usually plan what I’m about to write unless I have restrictions placed upon me or it’s a longer piece. Even then, I find my ideas by free writing. I think this is the only real way to express something, no matter how bad the idea sounds at the time. Most of my work comes out of freethinking. I let my mind wander while holding a pen and just see what I end up with. Words, phrases, or whole sentences can end up being my jumping off point, my springboard into a story or poem. Some of my favorite pieces, such as “Friday Midnights,” have come out of this process. Then when I’m done, I edit. I edit and revise a piece until I can’t stand to look at it anymore. Every once in a while, I pick up a pencil and start writing something completely different from what I’m used to writing. Most of the time the pieces end up crumbled up somewhere in my room, but every once in a while I find something worthwhile. One such piece was my play, “Ups and Downs.” It was originally inspired on a skit I wrote with several other students for our Drama class involving similar characters. The piece morphed into something new. My novella, “The Ghaust of the Fantomic,” is also something that I would never write by just sitting down and thinking. The pieces in this anthology represent four years of work that I’ve done in the CAPA Literary Arts program. There are pieces from every year, and they show a progression of sorts of how I’ve changed my style and voice over the years. To further show this voice, all of the pieces are organized oldest to newest within each section. Enjoy.


Ups and Downs Characters: ROSE – A woman in her early 30s. She is wearing a plain long skirt with a matching jacket and a pastel shirt underneath. PHILIP- A man in his mid 40s. He is wearing a suit, white shirt, and an earth tone tie. He is wearing a watch. Act I, Scene I At Rise: PHILIP is sitting on the floor of a small elevator and chewing on the skin around his fingers. ROSE is slowly pacing the small floor of the elevator in

front of PHILIP. The lights are on, but dimmed. ROSE Will you stop chewing your thumb? It’s absolutely disgusting and I hate it when you do that. PHILIP Will you stop pacing like some kind of turtle? (PHILIP stops chewing on his thumb. ROSE continues to pace.) How long have we been in this elevator?


PHILIP Going on two hours. This is just my luck.


Maybe it’s a sign. ROSE No sign is going to keep me from getting this over with. PHILIP I’m just saying maybe this is fate. ROSE

Fate has nothing to do with my life. (Beat.) Where are the police, the maintenance people? PHILIP Are you sure you really want to do this? I mean, you don’t think we can work this out? ROSE (Stops pacing and looks down at PHILIP.) No, Philip. I need to get out and do something new. What’s wrong with me?


ROSE Oh, I don’t know. You warm your socks on top of the toaster when there’s a perfectly

good dryer in the next room? PHILIP It’s faster! ROSE

It’s a fire hazard!

PHILIP You’re leaving me for Wal-Mart over socks? ROSE

I don’t want to talk about this.

PHILIP Well I do! I don’t understand why you would ever sell-out, especially to Wal-Mart. ROSE

You never listen to me.

PHILIP I’m all ears now. ROSE Yes, now, but it’s obvious that you haven’t been listening to me for the last nine months. I thought it would just blow over!


Well it’s not going to blow over. Can’t we talk about this some more?


It’s a little too late for that, now, isn’t it? PHILIP I don’t think so. We can still march into that office and say, “We don’t want a divorce, after all. Oh, and by the way, you’re a bitch.” ROSE Philip, Meredith is not a bitch. She’s just good at her job. Too bad the same can’t be said of your lawyer.

Ralph is—


How long has it been now? (Looking defeated.) Three minutes since you last asked.


ROSE That’s all? Are you sure your watch isn’t broken? PHILIP Will you calm down? I’m sure they’ll have this up and running in no time. ROSE You said that an hour ago and they still haven’t fixed it, have they? PHILIP No, you’re right. Would you like me to open up the hatch and try to fix it myself? Do you want me to risk my life for your safety? ROSE Sorry, you know I tend to panic in these kinds of situations. PHILIP Like every time the car got stuck in the mud or we got lost in the woods. (Beat.) Do you ever wish that things turned out differently? ROSE I wish we weren’t going through this, but I don’t regret marrying you. PHILIP Do you remember when we met? When I saw you sitting in the café, I knew I had to get to know you. Never had I seen such a beautiful woman reading a book of law. ROSE I was just finishing school. I was young, foolish, and ambitious. PHILIP And the best lawyer this town has seen in the making.

ROSE You, on the other hand, were gangly with a mop of dirty hair on your head. I was surprised you talked to me.


ROSE I’m surprised I did, too. But there was something about you that intrigued me. Probably my charm.


If that’s what you want to call it. PHILIP I wanted to thank every God I could think of when you said you’d go out with me. I didn’t know what to do when you accepted my proposal. I never thought you’d say yes. (Beat.) I can’t believe you’re going to choose Wal-Mart over me. ROSE Wal-Mart has opportunities. I’ll be representing the biggest and most loved— PHILIP And hated. Corporation in America.


PHILIP Couldn’t you work for someone else? I know our firm has lost your interest, but can’t you pick a different nonprofit? ROSE I wouldn’t get paid nearly as much. PHILIP When did you become such a capitalist? What happened to the Rose who wanted to use her law degree to defend those without a voice? The one who despised Big Business? ROSE She grew up. You could have seen it coming, if you’d only looked.

(The elevator shakes and gives a little. ROSE falls to the ground and instinctively grabs the wall and PHILIP’s hand to steady her self.) ROSE What was that? I think the elevator fell a little bit.


(Picking her self back up.) Sorry about that. PHILIP No problem. It was a nice change from being pushed aside. ROSE

What are they doing up there?

PHILIP Hopefully something to get us out of this death trap. Do you really think we could die in here?


PHILIP Anything’s possible. (ROSE looks at PHILIP anxiously.) PHILIP But I can’t think of any other person I would rather be stuck in this elevator with than you. ROSE Is your life really that much better with me in it? (PHILIP stands up suddenly.) Yes!


(Beat.) Remember when we went camping in West Virginia? The time that we set up under that big willow.

ROSE We camped in West Virginia so many times. I hardly remember specific ones. PHILIP You remember this one. We could see a mountain range in the distance. It was right by a river so clean we could spot all the fish in it. We couldn’t believe that a place in the world could be that beautiful. We didn’t even mind that the ground was a bit too bumpy. ROSE Was that the time when the deer almost ran over our tent? PHILIP No, nothing spectacular happened during this trip. But it was the first time that I remember thinking that we would last forever. ROSE It’s funny thinking about all that time ago. PHILIP Or how about the time that we got the refrigerator for the apartment, right after we moved in together. ROSE Oh God, do you remember the old one? It was that horrible green color, rotten like most of the food in it. PHILIP We went grocery shopping and spent hundreds, just to see how much food we could get into it. ROSE I think we spent half of the rent money on food that night. PHILIP But we didn’t run out of food for weeks. It was never that full again. I remember the two of us standing together and just staring at it, marveling at how one could grow so dependent on something else. ROSE We might have stayed there all night if the humming hadn’t started to lull us to sleep. We barely made it bedroom, let alone the bed. PHILIP What ever happened to the days where we sought out the simple pleasures in life?

ROSE We traded them in for high-profile jobs. (The elevator shakes again. ROSE stumbles and falls to the floor. PHILIP slides the opposite direction.) We’re going to die in here; I can just feel it. We’re going to die. Philip, I don’t want to die. Not now. (Rose pulls her legs towards herself, holds them there with her hands, and pushes her face between her knees. PHILIP slides over and puts his arm around her. She looks up at him briefly before going back to her previous position.) ROSE (Shakes her head.) I’m sorry I’m putting you through all this. I’m sorry that I have to leave, that I have to move on. That’s really what this divorce is all about, Philip. I just can’t deal with it anymore. I’m tired of living up to your expectations and mine. PHILIP Rose— ROSE It’s true! Why do you think I’ve been trying to move us apart? I judge myself hard enough without you always needing more. You mean well, Phil, I know, but you don’t understand. PHILIP Then help me understand. ROSE You can’t, it’s a character flaw. You’re never completely happy for me. PHILIP That’s not true! ROSE You always thought I could do better. I could win a case to save a rainforest from being cut down, and you would tell me that I should have gotten the company shut down so they couldn’t endanger another tree again. PHILIP What’s wrong with wanting more? ROSE I never got to cherish the success. I can’t even be happy for the WalMart opportunity because I hear your voice in my head rambling off all the environmental hazards they

create. I don’t care about it as much as you do. (Beat.) PHILIP You don’t care about the people we help? The lives, human, plant, and animal, that we save? ROSE Sure I care. I just can’t do it anymore. PHILIP


ROSE I don’t feel like I’m making a difference anymore. I’ll stop a company from cutting down a huge portion of one rainforest, so they’ll go on and cut down a different section. I got a call from Stephanie last year and you know what she was doing? She was a lawyer for WalMart. And she talked on and on about how much she loved what she was doing and all of these great things she and Al do. And I realized that we don’t do that. And that I wanted it. So when she offered me a job… I decided to take it and start over. PHILIP Why didn’t you say anything before? Why wouldn’t you talk to me about this?

I didn’t think you would understand.


(Pause.) PHILIP The house will be so empty without you. I don’t know if I can do it. Let me move with you to Arkansas, I can get a new job. I could even swallow the fact that you’re going to work for Wal-Mart! Arkansas has some beautiful places in it. We could rediscover our pasts, we could go exploring again. We could make it work again, change or no change. ROSE I would never hear the end of Wal-Mart and Big Corporation rants. It just wouldn’t work, Philip. I know you. PHILIP Why can’t you understand? I don’t want to live without you. I loved getting home at night and seeing you with a table of papers in front of you, even if all you did that night was sit on the couch and work through them. So I pushed you a little to always strive

for more. That doesn’t mean I didn’t understand what you accomplished. When you’d win one, you would come to bed and sigh gratefully. Your face seemed to light up from within and you radiated warmth and relief. ROSE (Looking down at the floor.) We used to have such great conversations right before we fell asleep. I thought you stopped waiting up for me. PHILIP I hardly ever sleep, actually. Stress keeps me up into all hours of the night. I just didn’t want to worry you, so I would lie in bed and wait for you to come in. I would look at you and remember all those times we had to ourselves and wish that just for one moment, we could go back. Me, too.


(The elevator shakes slightly and the lights brighten to signify the elevator is working again.) PHILIP Let’s get out of here. We can run away together. We’ll camp out in the forests for a couple weeks. We could try to find that first spot all over again! (ROSE shakes her head and embraces PHILIP. BLACKOUT)


The Ghaust of the Fantomic Prologue: In 2083, the religious tensions finally exploded when Israel, the holy land of the Jews, attacked Jerusalem, the holy land of the Christians. Jerusalem then attacked

Mecca, the holiest land of the Islam. The attacks sparked religious controversy all over the world. Countries declared their alliance to the predominant religion in their area. The United States, the government that used to control the country where Center City was situated, declared themselves to Christianity. This period was one of great migration for the world, with the religions moving together. Each religion used whatever technology they could to bring down the others. It was years later when the fighting took a major turn. The Christian Countries were tired of the constant stalemate and, against better judgment, began to launch nuclear missiles. They targeted the locations where they knew the other countries were storing nukes. The resulting explosions knocked out a lot of life in the world, between the fire and radiation. This blow was one that the world never recovered from completely. Many of the smaller religions and those who refused to fight were in hiding or had been completely exterminated. By the end of the nuclear exchange, 2 years later, the Christians had dominated. Representatives from each of the remaining religions gave the Christians power in exchange for the end of the war and the killing. To celebrate, the Christians built lavish cities in every country using the materials they had stocked up. Every Christian lived inside of one of the Center Cities, as well as a host of the survivors to act as their servants. Scientists figured out how to cultivate land within the massive cities to provide them with food. Protected tunnels took in water from the ocean and purified it for drinking. The wealth of the Christians allowed them to do whatever they wanted, while everyone else was banished to the barren country outside of the Cities, known as the Wildlands. Out in the Wildlands, the other religions, the Jews, Muslim, Buddhists, and Atheists, figured out how to survive. They built up their own cities and found their own food and water. They didn’t thrive, but they held on and didn’t give in. Scientists of their own started to build devices and cars that ran as quietly as an empty house, to help thieves steal from the City. The only interaction between the Wildlands and the City were the thieves, hired help from the Wildlands, and those banned from the City. And occasionally, rebelling Christian teenagers like me.

Chapter One: Destined for Fertile Ground Mrs. Smith stared blankly at the class, her hair plastered to her face and her eyes unmoving while she tripped over the words sputtering from her mouth. I ran my fingers through my dark hair, the digits forcing pathways through the layers. I pushed my head back over the seat chair, cracking my back in an arch as if to avoid Mrs. Smith’s word bullets. I opened my eyes and stared at the upside-down Abraham behind me. Abe rapped my forehead with his pencil, and I shot upright. I tried my

hardest to look attentive and succeeded slightly more than my sleeping classmates. History was my least favorite class. A wad of paper landed on my desk and bounced up into my face. Mrs. Smith didn’t blink an eye or slow down from her speech about the brave and heroic soldiers. I flattened out the paper, smoothing it on my desk so the pencil scribbles would be somewhat legible. -Peter, Ready for tonight? Meet you at your house. Isaac will be waiting outside the prison. -Joshua I looked across the room towards Joshua. He was taking diligent notes on everything that Mrs. Smith coughed up. He glanced over in my direction and smirked. We were ready for tonight, had been looking forward to it for over a week. All we had to wait for was the clock to finally strike. The rest of the school day dragged on and on, seemingly never-ending, as it often is when you’re anxious for the cover of night. We didn’t share any more classes, but we shared that knowing nod in the hallways. I flitted in and out of thought. One second, there was the rush of the wind bounding through the ruins outside of Center City; the next I was back in class, Mrs. Jones mumbling about Latin root words. By the time the dismissal bell finally rang, I felt 10 years older. While the rest of the students jumped up and fleeted from the classroom, I took my time gathering his things. We realized early on that if we acted like model students, nobody would be suspicious of our evening activities. And we must not be caught traveling to the Wildlands. When I reached my locker, Joshua and Abraham were already waiting there for me. Both were leaning on either side, heated in an argument. Joshua’s normally pale face was bright red, accenting his blonde hair. Abraham was calm, clearly winning, with a soft smirk on his face. I could barely make out what they were saying, with

Joshua yelling intelligibly and Abe speaking softly. Joshua saw me out of the corner of his eye and immediately stopped yelling. Abraham turned around. “ ’Bout time you got here! I was starting to wonder if old Franken-meir threw you down a well,” Abraham said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a plasticwrapped toothpick. He slammed the pick on the side of a locker and pulled it out of the plastic with his teeth. He let the plastic covering fall to the ground while he casually chewed on the toothpick. “What happened to keeping model student statuses? We’re trying to keep a low key,” I said as I opened up his locker. The inside was bare save for a couple notebooks. I liked the clear organized structure. I set my backpack down and started trading the binders that were in my pack for the ones in my locker. “Maybe some of us can’t suck up to the conformers as easily as you can.” Abraham slammed my locker shut, narrowly missing my hand. “Maybe some of us would rather not get thrown out of the City.” I slung my backpack over my shoulder and the three began to walk out of the school. “Why not? It’s not like it’s doing anything for us.” Abe jumped down the steps outside of the school and started to unlock his bike. “Except for, I don’t know, provide food, shelter, education, good paying jobs, and luxury,” Joshua said under his breath, loud enough for me to hear. “What did you just mumble?” Abe stared hard at the now-frozen Joshua. “I, um, said except keep us in a cage,” Joshua said. “That’s what I thought. I wasn’t talking to you anyway, Jay, stay out of it.” Joshua said nothing in return. “Whatever. If you guys are so worried about getting caught, maybe you should just stay home and play board games all night.” “Abe, it’s not even like that and you know it. If we were that worried, we wouldn’t even have come with you last time we went. Or even the first time. I’ve been anticipating tonight just as much as you have. Maybe even more. And I’m sure the same is true for Joshua, right?” Joshua nodded. “All I’m saying is that I’d rather not get kicked out. It’s fun going there for a few hours now, but do you really think you could take it everyday, all day? You’re all talk about it now, but I don’t think you could. You’re City bred, just like the rest of us.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever. I’d do it in a heartbeat.” My dad pulled up beside us and honked his horn twice. Abe mounted his bike. “Say hi to your folks for me. Meet me at my house, 11 o’clock. Tell your parents you’re staying at my house. We might be out late tonight.” “Why?” I started to say, when the window of the car rolled down and my dad’s baritone voice called out, “Peter, get in the car!” I grabbed Jacob and pulled him into the car. Abe took off on his bike. We parted our different ways, for now. After my dad dropped Joshua off at his house, I got ready for the night ahead of me. I lived in the richer neighborhood of Center City, a haven set-aside for the City’s highest-level employees. I jumped up the stairway at the front of the house to my room on the second floor. My room was covered in posters of the popular bands at the time, which hid the secular posters of the Wildland bands that I actually listened to. My room was immaculate, but that was his mother’s maid’s doing, not mine. I dumped his backpack on the floor and rifled through my drawers for the nights provisions. I picked out an outfit of all black to change into at Abe’s house. We need all the cover we can get in order to sneak out of the City. Then, I opened my closet. In the back was a faux wall that I pried upon with my house keys. I put it in right after the first time we went to the Wildlands to hold everything I could get arrested for being in the possession of. I grabbed my Wildland outfit that I would change into once we got beyond the wall of the City. As well, I had a cache of money that I could use if I found myself in a bind, but usually we just stole what we needed. I threw all of my things into a duffel bag and set it by my door. I had three hours before I would need to start over to Abe’s house. I sat down at my computer and checked through all the news websites to make sure that no sanctioned attacks would be happening that night. I also hacked into my dad’s account to check guard shift changes and the news feed to double check the information I found on the open web. My father was the leading reporter on the City’s news station and one of the leaders of the City. I had access to whatever information I needed. Unfortunately for me, he didn’t know his son’s skills at hacking or that he was helping us get out of the City.

10 o’clock drew near. I slung the duffel bag over my shoulder. My parents were engaged at a ball that night, one of the reasons that we chose this night to get back out into the Wildlands. All of the City’s finest would be preoccupied. I asked the driver, Davis, to take me to Abe’s house. We rode through the city in silence. I stared out the window as the City rolled lazily by. Skyscrapers blocked the view of anything that resembled a sky like the one you could see from the Wildlands. People milled to and fro without any real sense of purpose. The streets were packed tight with moviegoers switching from one theater to another. On the usual Friday night, you could see up to three movies in a night. The switch between my neighborhood and Abe’s was almost instant. The theaters and skyscrapers were gone and replaced with low buildings and factories, the sky obscured by smoke. Davis also blacked out all the windows. They arrived at Abe’s house shortly. Joshua’s car was just leaving as they pulled in. As I opened my door, Davis said, “Will you be home tonight, Peter?” The formality between them usually ended when they were together. “No, tonight’s going to be a long one.” “Another group project for school?” “You know me too well, Davis.” He smiled. Davis was the only person who knew where the boys would be going tonight. It was actually Davis who first showed them how to get out. I closed the door and Davis left quickly as to avoid suspicion. Once the car was gone, Abe opened his door. “Come on, get in here. We need to get going. Did you check the guard shifts?” “There’s one in an hour, do we have enough time?” “If you get changed quickly and nothing else comes up.” I ran into the house and Abe shut the door behind him. The interior was just as dreary as the rest of Abe’s neighborhood. The lights were dim and all the colors were muted with age. I made my way to Abe’s bathroom. The door was open. Joshua was inside the small bathroom halfway through changing. He turned toward me and flexed his muscles while pulling a black shirt on. He smiled and stepped past me and lingered for a second before I walked into the bathroom and slammed the door shut.

Inside, I quickly changed out of my designer jeans and plain white dress shirt and into the full black outfit. I stuffed my City clothes inside the duffel bag and slung it over my shoulder before walking back out to the living room. Abe and Joshua were whispering to each other when I walked up to them. “You ready to go then, Peter?” Abe said. “Yeah, let’s go. We’ve got about 45 minutes before the guards change shifts, we’ll be cutting it tight.” The two boys got up as I started for the door. I needed to escape the city as fast as possible. The three waited for a moment when we got out the door. It’s hard not to think of the danger we were getting ourselves into every time we walked out of that door. If the City catches you trying to leave, you’re forever banned to the Wildlands, a punishment that is quite possibly worse than death. It’s hard to survive in the Wildlands for long, even if you have been trained in surviving there. We were basically risking our entire lives for a night of complete freedom. But to us, it was worth the risk, worth everything. The first time we had gone to the Wildlands, it was because we were stupid and bored. We had done everything you could do in Center City and wanted to try something new. So we decided to see if we could get out of Center City and go to the Wildlands. At first, we hadn’t thought of the risk or danger. Now, it was always on our minds, but it didn’t matter. We had built another life in the Wildlands. It was the only time we truly felt we could be ourselves and not just a piece in the program. There, we could say what we wanted, dress like we wanted, as long as it was similar enough to blend in with the citizens of the Wildlands, and act how we wanted. We could finally be free from the glaring rules and customs of Center City. To take a break from Conformist City was what the pastors would describe as “heavenly.” And as long as we were careful, nothing would happen. But there’s always that small chance… We took off at once and together. We swept low, down the street towards the closing factories. This was the perfect time to slip into the looming buildings. We slipped past the guards, lost in the flow of the workers. Although the steel factory was closed, the hot molten metal still threw gold-lined shadows on all the walls. We darted

between the shadows and quietly made our way to one of the side stairways. We jumped down the stairs four at a time, having perfected the footing so the metal stairs wouldn’t clang loud enough to alert security. Two floors down, we stopped and pushed open the door. This was a mining level. Davis’ cousin worked on this floor and had realized that the mine stretched beyond the City’s wall. A little exploring led to a weak spot in the roof of one of the mine’s. When the guard was busy, Davis’ cousin had dug a small hole that breached the outside, about a mile from the City wall. It was this hole that we had been using to get to the Wildlands. We opened the door and Abe turned on the flashlight that he had brought. The mines’ electricity was shut off at closing time. We followed the steady beam through the familiar tunnels until we reached the hole. A piece of wood had been put up to block the entrance. “How long before the guards change shifts?” Abe asked me. I lit up my watch with the flashlight beam. “A couple of minutes.” Abe nodded and punched the wood to knock it out of place. Joshua and I helped lift Abe to the surface. The guards were changing shifts on the wall, so there would be enough time for the boys to quickly get out and replace the wood before the new shift would notice any activity. Then Abe and Joshua both reached down to help lift we up. Once we were all up, Abe replaced the wood. I looked up to the wall and saw the guards were starting to take their final places, and the spotlights started to flicker back on. We exchanged a glance and started running. We had to beat out the spotlights before we were safe. There was an old prison just a half-mile from where we were. Isaac met us there with a car to get us to the Wildlands capital. The spotlights ended shortly before the prison. I could feel the muscles in my legs straining to keep up with the other boys. As we neared the jail, I heard the car start. Isaac knew we were cutting it short and needed to get out of there. Abe and Joshua reached the car first and jumped into the back. I felt the heat of a spotlight hit my back as I jumped into the car. Isaac sped off before the guards knew what to do with themselves. Abe and Joshua cheered as the car picked up speed. The landscape outside the City was barren and sparse. There was little to none

foliage, just a dying tree or two. There was almost no wildlife; the terrain was so poisoned that it couldn’t support an ecosystem. Buildings from pre-war communities scattered the land, most of them crumbled to piles of rubble. I covered my face with my arms as the cold wind started to pick up the dirt and small debris. When we saw the Capital looming ahead, we changed into our Wildland clothes in the back of the truck. Abe and I changed under a thick blanket to keep warm and hide our bodies as we were taught. Abe stood up and let the wind skate across his bare skin as he changed. The Capital was built into one of the few remaining cities from before the war. Interspersed between the old buildings, the people of the Wildlands had built up new, low buildings. Stands of food and beverages lined almost all of the city streets. No food or water could be pulled from the lands here, so the Capital’s citizens bought it from travelers from other lands or those who risked stealing it from the City. Everything was bought using currency, goods, or services. It was up to the seller to decide what they would accept for their goods. This system worked more efficiently than the purely currency-driven market the City ran. Isaac pulled the car into the Capital through one of the numerous side streets. He twisted and turned his car around until he got to the house that he had built himself in an old parking lot. The place was small, but secure. He had taken over the security office of the lot after a small gang had ransacked his family’s home. His family had moved to another community, but Isaac had chosen to stay. The lot’s generators still worked and powered the security. Isaac could watch everything that went on in the building from his house. This way, he could make sure that he and his guests would always be safe within his walls. Our group usually started the adventure there. Isaac opened his door and turned the alarm off. “So what do you guys want to do?” I wanted to explore an old office building that used to belong to a billionaire. I had heard my dad talking about how many of them had secret rooms, and I wanted to find one. Before I could suggest it, Abe said, “I think we should find a house of our own. A hiding place in case the worst was to happen.” “Does anyone disagree?” Joshua and I nodded. It was a better and more

productive idea than mine. “No? Okay, I think I know just the place. We just have to… find it.” We groaned. Isaac knew the Capital well, but it always changed around. “Oh, whatever, it’ll be fun. Abe, grab that pack behind you, it has some useful stuff in it for traps.” Abe grabbed the bag and Joshua and I followed them. Only a few people were walking around in the back alleys. During the night, most people stayed inside or on the main streets. Isaac had stressed to us how important it was for us to be armed while wandering the streets. Joshua and I each had knives clutched between our fists while Isaac and Abe had guns strapped to their belts. No one would be getting the best of us tonight, not like before. Each step we took seemed to ricochet off every surrounding wall, ruining any chance for cover we had. The silent glimmer of light from the houses bordering the alley dimly showed the way. Rats and other creatures of the night could be heard skittering through the trash-laden ground. Every once in a while a squeal could be heard underfoot from a poor rodent with slow reflexes. We had gone a good distance before we finally stumbled upon a house that appeared abandoned. Nobody was on the street, and the door was open, so we just walked in. The house was a mess; covers and food were thrown everywhere. The house had definitely been ransacked recently, the previous owners had probably moved on in fear of being hit again. “It rarely happens, though,” Isaac said. We started cleaning up a little. Just enough to let anyone who stopped by know that someone lived there now. I locked the front door, unconfident that it would actually stop anybody from moving in, and left through a back way. Out in the alley, Joshua and Abe celebrated. They whooped and hollered and jumped up and down. Isaac and I hung back and didn’t say anything. I know Joshua felt my somber mood. We had a house now, sure, but for what? We’d come here dozens of times without a problem and preparing for the worst worried me. My mouth dried up when I thought about a life purely in the Wildlands. I’ve never even seen it during the daytime. Joshua tripped and fell ahead. Abe leapt down to help his friend. Isaac ran ahead to make sure he was okay. The two of them lifted Joshua to his feet. From his

limp and dependence on the two other boys, I could tell Joshua was injured enough to slow their progress down. Confident I wouldn’t lose the other boys, I pulled out a water bottle I had tucked into my pants. I lifted up the bottle to my mouth and let the water flow down my tongue, moistening my begging throat. When I looked back down, the other three were gone. They couldn’t have gone far, so I ran down the alley and looked down every turnoff. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Lost. I was lost. My mouth dried up again and I took a swill. I tried to follow the alleys back to the edge of the Capital, but seemed to be going in circles. Buildings either looked similar or everything but one building looked the same. I sat down in the middle of the road and took another drink of water and tried to think. I had to be out of the Capital and back to the City by morning. It would be difficult to do solo, but not impossible. If only I could just make it back to Isaac’s, I might find them there. At that moment, a car slammed into me from behind. I felt the front fender snap my neck forward, and my body propelled forward. I felt the tires break the bones in my body as I tumbled for two eternal seconds under the car. Everything screamed but I could not. I felt the cold of death sweep through my veins as my blood surged out of my body and seeped into the scattered trash around me. My vision faded quickly as I saw the car turn down another alley. My life slipped away in the middle of the road, freeing me from the pain. With my last thoughts, I cursed the Wildlands for their stealth technology, the driver of the car, and my own ignorance.

Planting the Seeds Davis laid down the silverware around the china on the table as Peter walked into the dining room. Peter hung back in the corner of the room, watching Davis carefully as he double-checked each adorning feature of the table. Satisfied, Davis began to walk out of the room. “Davis, a word,” Peter said suddenly. Davis stopped and turned around. “Do you know any way to get outside of the City?” Davis froze in his spot. His eyes quickly darted around the room before he forcefully grabbed Peter and shoved him into the small closet where the wine was kept in racks. “Why do you want to know?” Davis whispered loudly. “I want to get out. Joshua, Abe, and I want to get out.” “I can’t help you with that. It’s far too dangerous. Do you know what your parents would do to me if they found out I helped you get outside of the City, and you got hurt?” “What if we made it worth your while?” Peter picked up one of the wine bottles and started turning it absently in his hands. “There’s nothing you could do to make it worth my while. If you got caught, I’d be fired and killed.” Davis took the bottle out of Peter’s hand and put it back on the shelf. “We could bring things back for you. We could take messages back to the

Wildlands. We could provide a service for those who were moved here against there will.” “You don’t know what it was like there! Most of us don’t want to go back or know what’s happened to that place. I will not help you go there.” Davis stormed out of the room. “Wait, Davis, come on.” Davis stopped but didn’t turn around. “There’s nothing we can do to get you to help us?” “No.” Davis continued walking out of the room. Later that night, Peter was sitting in his room plotting on how they could get out of the City when Davis opened his door. Peter sat up on his bed while Davis quietly closed the door behind him. “In the mines, there’s a hole that leads up to the surface, about a mile from the main gates. If you hop up that when the guards are changing shifts, you get easily get away. You can slip into the factory when the workers are leaving. The hole is in the mine two floors down from the main floor. Return the same way.” “Why the change in heart?” Peter said. “There’s a girl. She goes by Macy Heart. Find her and let her know I’m okay.” “But-“ “Not all of us came against our will, Peter. Goodnight.” Davis quickly left the room, leaving Peter with his thoughts. A couple weeks later, the boys were running through the streets of the Center City on their way to the mines. Earlier that evening, Peter had checked the guard shifts through his dad’s computer account. Given that nothing went terribly wrong, they should have plenty of time to reach the hole before the guards changed. They slipped into the factory without a hitch. Inside, their eyes adjusted to the low light of the glowing metal. They found the staircase and started bounding down it, three steps at a time. Only a floor down though, Abe stopped and Peter and Joshua fell into him. Just above them, they heard another set of feet jumping down the staircase. Their loud jumps had alerted a security guard to their presence. The three bolted down the steps

and smashed into the door. It was locked. The steps above them were getting louder and louder. They were going to have to find another staircase, hopefully one where the door to the second basement floor was unlocked. They climbed down another flight. This time, the door was unlocked. They clambered through and locked it behind them. They leaned up against the door until the loud footsteps had passed the door. “That—” Abe said, “—was fucking close.” “Yeah, how about we not do that again,” Joshua said. “Come on, let’s find another way up.” Peter took off ahead of the other two. They found another staircase a short way away and made it up the one flight of stairs quietly. This door, thankfully, was unlocked. Before they left, they thought about the chance that the mine wouldn’t have lights after hours. Sure enough, the floor they opened up to was pitch black. They switched on their flashlights and pulled out the map Peter had been able to get Davis to draw up for them. They were able to follow it easily and only got turned around twice. The hole was covered by a piece of wood that Abe easily knocked loose with a punch. A beam of light from the sky above lit the tunnel they were in. They turned off their flashlights. Joshua and Peter helped Abe climb up. Next, Peter started to climb up with support from Abe above and Joshua below. Peter and Abe then reached down to grab Joshua’s outstretched arms to lift him up and out of the hole. However, it soon became apparent that Joshua was far too heavy to lift up. Peter, being the lightest, jumped back down and helped Joshua up. Abe and Joshua easily lifted Peter up. However, this setback, combined with the previous ones ruined their timing with the guards. Spotlights were already flickering on close to them. They started to run as a whistle rang out across the gate. However, it soon became evident that no one was chasing them. Apparently they didn’t care about people leaving as much as they did people trying to come back in. Their return would have to run smoothly. They walked for two hours before they came to the Capital. They had been warned the journey was long without a car and had packed provisions accordingly. They hoped to find a car or something to ride back to the main gates easier. They stuck to the main roads of the Capital and marveled at how different it was from the

City they were accustomed. The skyscrapers weren’t as tall, trash was littered knee high, and rats and mutations ran underfoot. The people were dirty and covered by rags. Everyone stared as they walked past. It became quickly obvious that they were not going to blend in their current City garb. It was while they were gawking and being gawked at that they were attacked the first time. A group of the citizens came upon them from behind and smashed a pipe into Joshua’s side. He cried out in pain and went down. Abe and Peter swung into action. Both had met at a training center in the City for self-defense in case one of the citizens from the Capital managed to get in and attack or one of the workers went rogue. For the first time, they were able to use their knowledge to fight off the three men who had attacked Joshua. The men ran off and disappeared into the crowd that had gathered to watch the fight. Peter and Abe supported Joshua while he limped. Once out of the crowd, Abe and Peter dropped him down and inspected the injury more closely. It wasn’t anything to serious, but there was an open wound bleeding and his ribs were probably cracked. Peter took off his shirt and used it to bind Joshua’s chest. Once the bleeding seemed to go down, they picked Joshua up again and started to figure out how they were getting out of the City. Peter figured Davis would forgive him for not finding Macy for him. The boys had stumbled into an alley. They made slow progress to where they thought the edge of the city was. It was on this trip that they were ambushed. A group of three women and two men surrounded them in the alley. Two wielded pipes like the men on the main road, but the rest were carrying knives. “What do you want?” Abe said, his voice surrendering his fear. “We have money, food, water, take it all. Just leave us alone.” “We don’t want your stuff, city-dweller,” said one of the women. “What, can’t stay in your own city? You need to try to take over ours now, too?” another said. The group closed in on the boys. “Which to kill first? Should we spare the injured one of his misery, maybe?” one of the men said. “Or make him watch the rest die in front of him?” the first woman said.

A shot rang out and the knife the first woman was holding flew out of her hand. “How about you leave them the fuck alone, Marge.” The first woman, presumably Marge, turned around. Peter saw there standing a tall man with long hair that draped over his face. His clothes were actually fitting, unlike everyone else’s the boys had seen. An unlit cigarette hung limply from his mouth. “You stay out of this,” Marge said. The man shot another knife out of one of the men’s hands in response. “Now, Margerie, you’ve had two warning shots. Want to test me for a third?” Marge and the man had a stared at each other. Peter began to breathe harder and harder as the silence dragged out. Finally, Marge waved to the rest of her group and they moved on. The man holstered his gun and walked up to the boys. He lit his cigarette, the lighter momentarily flickering an orange glow across his rugged face and blazing in his eyes. He pocketed it, took a drag, and extended his hand. “The name’s Isaac.”

Chapter Two: An Unlikely Wagon I sit up with a start. It had been a long time since I last dreamed about that first visit to the Capital. Isaac had helped them get back. The guards were on the lookout for their return. The spotlights swept across the grounds, illuminating every inch. Isaac pulled out a shotgun, and fired shots into the ones above the hole. Wasting no time, the three of us ran and dove through the hole. We were sure the guards would soon swarm the mines, so we forged deeper and hid out. We explored the tunnels all day. Our parents were too busy to notice we were gone. When the miners left, we slipped out with them. When Joshua’s mom questioned how he got so hurt, we made up that he fell down a flight of stairs. But despite everything, we had decided to go back. Isaac had promised to help them out, and he had. He taught them how to better defend themselves against the citizens, how to get around with some confidence, how to blend in, how to survive. Light blares down into my eyes and my irises close in. Wait. Light. There shouldn’t be light. I stand up. I’m still in the Capital; I shouldn’t still be in the Capital. “Abe! Joshua! Isaac!” I call out in futility. Only the rats respond. I run to the edge of the town, trying to remember what happened. I remember Joshua falling and then… nothing. I make my way to Isaac’s house, the alleys seemingly opening up to me in the daylight. The Capital looks so different in the light, less menacing. Birds fly ahead and sing out. The night brings all the worst of the Capital out to play, while the

day scares them away. I knock on Isaac’s door, but nobody answers. I push on the door and let it swing open easily. He walks into the small dwelling. Isaac isn’t there. I check the security cameras, though, and see that Isaac is walking up to the house. I open the door and run out. “Isaac! Where’s everyone else? Why’d you just leave me there?” Isaac said nothing, didn’t even look up at me. “Isaac. Hello? Isaac!” What was going on? I reach out and grab Isaac’s shoulder. Isaac stops and turns around. “Finally, you notice.” I say. Isaac looks around, and then turns back. He opens the door and closes it behind him. I stand dumbfounded. I grab the handle and try to go in, but the door’s locked. I pound on the door over and over again. “For real, Isaac, this isn’t funny. I need to get back to the City!” There’s no response. I leave the parking garage, kicking the door for good measure. Isaac’s car is sitting on the curb. I jump in it. The key isn’t there, but Isaac taught us how to hotwire a car. I make short work of it and start driving it away. Isaac will miss his car, but that’s what he gets for ignoring me. I figured I could leave the car behind the jail in front of the gates. He’ll get it eventually. The landscape is much more desolate looking in the daytime than it is at night. I can clearly see all the wreckage. All the gnarled dead trees, the half-buried cars, and I can almost hear the cries of the dead in the wind. The sun feels like it’s shining through a magnifying glass. I arrive at the jail without a hitch. I figure that the guards will be on high alert after a vehicle approached the wall, but not even a single alarm is going off. I hide behind the jail and calculate where the hole is. I eye the guard closest to me. The second the guard looks away briefly, I run. A couple feet from the hole, I jump and land near it. I swear at myself and slip down the hole. I smash the wood board at the bottom to pieces. At least I know that Abe and Joshua probably make it through. No one is in the tunnel, but that isn’t surprising as the mines stretch for miles on either side of the factory. I make my way through the factory. I couldn’t find my City clothes, so I was still

dressed in my Capital clothes. I mingle easily among the rest of the workers as I make my way out of the factory. I sneak around the guards posted at the exit and go around back to where Abe cut the fence so that we could get out easier when coming back into the City. I walk to the main road and try to call Davis. No answer. I sigh and begin walking to the school, figuring I’ll find Joshua and Abe there and they’ll explain everything. It’s all just some misunderstanding. Did they think he ditched them? The City crowds soon engulf him. People bump into him left and right, paying him no mind. Usually they avoid me, but they’re blatantly running into me now. In fact, they aren’t even making eye contact with him…. I stop. No one seems to notice. No one yells at me to move or even stares at me for stopping. They just keep moving around me. I shove a girl as she passes me. She doesn’t say a word, just kept moving. I punch a guy as I nudge past. He doesn’t say a word, just keeps moving. Something’s seriously wrong. I duck and dive through the crowd to try to get someone to meet my gaze. And then there! A pair of eyes flickers at me for a brief second before returning to the ground. “Hey! You!” I say. The man starts walking faster. I push and shove people out of my way, but he was gaining distance. “He’s not going to stop, you know,” a voice from above says. I look up to see a girl sitting on the ledge above me. Her hair is full of colors. The hair on top is solid blue, but all the hairs underneath are pinks and greens, red and purples. She’s wearing a black tank top and camo pants. Her eyes shine gold. “You’re not ignoring me,” I say. “They’re not ignoring you either. They just can’t see you.” “How…? They can’t see me?” The girl jumps down from her ledge. She’s just a little shorter than me. “Nope.” “But that guy could.” “Because he’s a guide. They don’t usually interact with us.” “And ‘us’ is supposed to mean…?” “Us. Fantismos.”

“What?” She smiles wide, flashing creepily perfect teeth. “Welcome to the world of Fantomic.” “Fan-what?” “Fantomic. Here, follow me. I’ll explain in the car.” The girl pulls me out into the middle of traffic. She drags me skillfully through the oncoming cars. Across the street, she leads me to a parked car. “Get in.” I run around to the passenger side of the car and hop in. The girl pulls out a giant ring of keys from her purse. She flips through them and tries a couple before she finds one that fits into the car’s ignition. She starts it up and we begin to drive across the City. “So how’d you kick it?” she asks. “What?” I lean back in the seat and stare out the window, feeling uncomfortable. “How’d you kick it? How’d you die?” “Die? What are you, on drugs?” I don’t doubt the possibility. “What? No. Geez, I thought you figured it out by now. You’re dead! Why do you think people started ignoring you? Stopped seeing you?” “I thought you were joking, what do you mean I’m dead, I can’t be dead, you’re surely on drugs, probably keth, I hear that’s popular now.” My mind is reeling, sure it’s weird, but there’s got to be some other reason. I’m probably still sleeping. “Will you stop blabbering? I’m going to assume you don’t remember how you died, then.” “That’s because I’m not-” And then it comes back to me. The car. My death. “Judging by your silence, I’m going to assume you remember.” “A car….” “In the Wildlands, I suppose, judging by your interesting sense of… style.” The girl looks over at me. I stare out the window trying to piece everything together, but I feel like I’d have to completely butcher the pieces in order to get them to fit together. “Oh, don’t get all emotional and quiet on me. People die all the time. You’re a lucky one, though. Usually people just simply go away. You got to come here.”

“Oh yeah, and what’s here? What’s so special about this? I can see everyone go on without me? I can watch people forget who I am and meet freaks like you who can see me? Who are you anyway?” “Hey hey hey! Take it slow, will yah?” “Well what am I supposed to do? Relax? Not question why the fuck this is happening?” “Well, yeah. How about you do that real quick why I explain what’s going on.” The girl shoots me a look. “Okay?” I fold my arms and sink lower into my chair. “Now where to start… well, I’m Lyria. This here is Fantomic, the world of the Dead. Well… not all of the dead. Just the one’s who die without any witnesses or those whose bodies are never found.” “Which am I?” “Well, did your death have any witnesses?” “The guy who ran me over.” “Well, then I guess your body is never gonna be found. Congrats.” Lyria pulls on to a road that I’ve never seen before. The buildings look the same, except the people are different. They’re all wearing some combination of black and patchwork clothing. Many are dirty and wandering sadly through the streets. In the distance, the buildings turn into rows and rows of houses. In the middle of them is a large temple-like building. Lyria navigates the streets like there are hardly any turns at all. I watch the streets go by, many of them reminding him of the Capital. There’s even a marketplace similar to that of the Capital’s main street. After a seemingly endless amount of turns, I say, “Where are we?” “Well, you know how people can’t see you? That’s not all they can’t see. This is part of the City that’s just for the Fantismos, that’s what we call the people of Fantomic.” “So where are we going?” “My place. We’re going to meet some friends of mine.” “Okay. How much longer until we get there? I feel like I need to sleep on all this, try to add some sense to it.”

“Not that long, ten minutes tops. And I’d give up on trying to make it make sense. It never does.” “Well you seem pretty comfortable with it.” “You just have to except it for what it is. Plus, I’ve been here for a while. I died during the war. My parents were Christians, but traitors. They were executed in front of the town. I escaped into the Wildlands, but back then the Capital wasn’t up, and I starved.” “Wow, I—“ “But that doesn’t matter. What you really need to know about are the gangs.” “Gangs?” “Now, there’s one thing you gotta know about Fantomic. It’s not your peachy world run by hidden councilmen. Here, you got five gangs. The only one you need to know is the Ghaust. Those bastards. They’re basically the worst of the bunch. They used to kill people in the streets. Well, not kill. You can’t really kill what’s already dead. Except if you throw them in the void, that doesn’t happen very often. But they tortured people. Cut of limbs, very painful stuff. Oh, you can still feel pain. Anyway. The five gangs used to be at war, but they’re at a standoff right now. I swear any minute things are going to spark again. Look at me, I’m all giddy. This happens every time I get to introduce a new Fant to this wonderful world of ours. I’ll be more collected later, I guess.” “And I need to know all this… why?” “Because the gang runs everything! There’s no safe way to do anything here without upsetting the gang. That is, unless you’re part of it, and even then you never know.” “So… are you in the gang?” “No, which is very risky. You might want to join up.” “But what if the war starts back up again? Would I have to fight? Or do all that… horrible stuff you were saying they do?” “Yeah, I assume so. If you want to avoid it, you can stick with my friends and me. We’ll train you how to get around the gang. Things will get sticky if the war starts back up again, but fuck. If they start acting up again, they’re going down.” Lyria

looked over at me. “And I can use all the help with that as I can get. You seem like a good find. You could handle yourself in the Wildlands?” “Yeah, my friends and I snuck out of the City a dozen of times. We met a guy named Isaac who taught us everything we needed to know.” “Good. You should be a quick learner, then. We’re almost there.” “Wait, that’s it? You’re just going to throw me into this world with that information?” “Well it’s better than throwing you in with no information! Besides, I’m sure you can figure things out. And it’s not like I’m just ditching you, God. A little melodramatic, aren’t we?” “Sorry, this is just so weird for me.” “Well it’s weird for me, too. I finally recover from my last death just to find another bird to teach to fly.” “You finally recovered from what?” “Just don’t freak out on me, please? That’s the least of my worries.” Lyria pulled into a driveway. Across the garage door, written in blood, was “I C U.” “Oh my God.” I manage to utter. “That would be the most of them.” Lyria gets out of the car, I hesitantly follow. At the base of the garage are two slumped mangled bodies. “Remember that going down part that I just mentioned in the car? I think the Ghaust have just declared war.”


Beverly Sampson was not the prettiest girl in the class. She wasn’t the most intelligent or the funniest. She didn’t have any reputations that would worry a mother. No, Beverly Sampson was just a girl in Peter’s biology class who he sat behind. But for a long time, Beverly Sampson was the only girl he could think about. Peter wasn’t sure when it had started. Maybe it was when they were dissecting frogs and she burrowed her head into his neck from fear when the frog kicked a little. They were told it’s a natural reaction. Mr. Thompson, the bio teacher, proceeded to make the frog kick his legs to a tune. He could be sick sometimes. Or maybe he just got used to her being around and wanted her to stay there. Either way, he knew why he loved her. Her scent lingered with him everywhere he went. It was like the scent of pumpkin.

Chapter Three: Branching Out

I wake up and pumpkin fills my senses. Beverly never knew his feelings for her. He had kept them a secret from her. From everybody. Especially Joshua and Abe. They wouldn’t have understood. The blankets covering me are thick and scratchy like insulation, but they provided pressure and warmth in the night. I toss the blanket off and sit up in the bed, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I sleep in boxers and a t-shirt, which, in hindsight, wasn’t a very good idea. The blanket gave me deep scratches in my arms and legs and the itching doesn’t seem to disappear with the blanket. Lyria walks in wearing a patchwork skirt and a plain black shirt. She’s carrying a pile of clothes in her arms. I quickly cover myself with the blanket, but she doesn’t seem phased. “Those scratches will go away soon. Nothing stays injured or dead around here for long,” Lyria says while dropping the pile of clothes on the floor, “I scored you some real clothes to wear. We’ll find some more later. I’d suggest burning the other ones or something.” “Uh, thanks,” is all I can think of to reply. “Uh, your welcome,” Lyria says mockingly. “When you’re ready, I’ve got breakfast warm downstairs. I made a feast for your official first day in Fantomic.” Lyria walks out of the room and closes the door behind her. “Lyria!” I call out. Lyria opens the door again and leans in. “Did you make something with pumpkin for breakfast?” Lyria’s face scrunches up in confusion. “No.” She closes the door again and walks out. I wonder why now, of all times, I could smell the sweet scent of pumpkin again. I toss off the covers and quickly climb into the clothes Lyria left. The pants are black and clung close to my body. The shirt is baggier and made of the same patchwork style of Lyria’s skirt. The shoes she brought are made of some sort of leather materials and remind me of the moccasins I’d seen in his history book. My old tattered Wildland clothes are sitting at the corner of the bed. I pick up the mattress and shove them under there. You never know when they could prove to be useful.

The room I’m in is a lot like the others in the house. The floors are covered with thick red carpet and tickle my feet while I walk. The walls are a very faded blue like the night sky sickened with light poisoning. There are many rooms in the house, at least eight that I could count when I first came in. The house itself is huge, like the ones I was used to seeing in the nicer parts of the City. Lyria and her two friends had scored it when Lyria had first found herself in Fantomic. Her friends, Rick and Morris, had been the ones who introduced this new world to Lyria. It was she, however, that suggested they take one of these houses for their own. It was something that nobody did; the houses were reserved for Gang leaders. But Lyria wanted a house and didn’t want the gang, so she just took what she wanted. She painted a target on herself. The Ghaust constantly targeted her and her friends. They were killed at least every other week. Lyria had explained that when you killed someone in Fantomic by conventional means, they only stayed dead for approximately 3 days. She also said that, although they had killed before, they had never made it such a display. I left my room. Although Lyria said that the house was usually full, the two of them are the only ones home. Yet, she reportedly made a feast. I walk down the hallway. The house is decorated with all sorts of odds and ends. Most were stolen from the other houses as a way to get back at the Ghaust. It’s no wonder they target her as much as they do. Large chairs and tables crowd the wide hallway. On the other side, a staircase circles downstairs where the kitchen and living room are. I walk downstairs with one hand on the railing, the other trailing behind me, and my head up high like royalty descending upon the press. If someone were watching, they would certainly have gotten a good laugh. Lyria is in the kitchen cooking at the large stove. On it are skillets cooking bacon, sausage, eggs, potatoes, pancakes, and donuts. Out on the table already are a couple plates, glasses, silverware, and jugs of orange juice, apple juice, and milk. “Just sit down, I’m taking care of everything.” Lyria says in between flipping everything. I take a seat and pour myself a glass of apple juice. I take a sip and treat myself to an unfamiliar taste. The apple juice that I had at home was thin and refined in factories. This is thick with a definite tang to it.

“Haven’t you ever had homemade juice before?” I look up to see Lyria staring at me. “What?” “Haven’t you ever had homemade juice before? You were staring at that glass like the contents were some kind of alien life force.” “Uh, no, I haven’t. I didn’t know you could make it yourself.” “You can make everything yourself if you’ve got the right equipment. Which I do. You’re very lucky that you ran into me instead of some homeless person or a gang member.” “I guess so. Maybe one of them would have been able to acclimate me to the culture better, though.” “You don’t need to be ‘acclimated’ to the culture. It’s not a very good one, to begin with. And I gave you all the basics you need to know. Everything else you can figure out on your own.” “Isn’t that the same thinking that led to all those teenage pregnancies before the war?” “Don’t kid yourself. You still have them. You’re council is just better at keeping them out of sight than the people of the old days.” “Whatever, it’s still the same thinking.” “But I bet those kids learned their lesson.” “Am I supposed to be learning a lesson?” “Just eat your food.” Lyria begins to shove pancakes onto my plate. When she’s done, I had a small pile of everything that was on the stove, plus a bowl of fruit that Lyria pulled out of the refrigerator. “So what’s the game plan today?” I ask Lyria in between bites. “Well, I thought I’d take you into the marketplace. We need to get you some clothes and I need to restock the house with food. Everyone should be coming back to the house tonight. You’ll get to meet the crew then.” “Are they all recovering from dying?” Lyria chokes on a bite of pancake. “No, they went into Center City to see if there was anything interesting going on. There usually isn’t, but it’s a practice we keep up.”

“And they’re all like you, right? They refused to join up with the gang?” “Yeah. The house has become sort of a refuge for those of us that don’t approve of their actions.” “Some refuge. You told me that the gang is always raiding you. How does that constitute as a refuge?” “Well, it’s safer than the outside world. Although the gang targets us, they’re much crueler to those who can’t protect themselves like we can.” The two of them finish eating in silence. Lyria gets up and sticks her plate and glass in the sink before walking out of the room. I take a few more pancakes. I hadn’t had a decent meal since leaving for the Wildlands, and the food Lyria made was the best I’d ever tasted. Lyria and I traveled to the marketplace that I saw earlier from the car. In Fantomic, nobody needs to work. There isn’t any currency, Fantomic works on a barter system. The people who work were those who farmed for food or massproduced clothes. Although many people were trading with goods, Lyria was doing no such thing. She believes that if something could be stolen, it should be stolen. And she was good at it. Before we left, she instructed me on how to steal from the marketplace venders. It requires two people, she said, one to distract the seller and one to steal the goods. I, in this case, will be the one to distract the vender given that I had no experience in stealing from Fantismos. To distract them, I’ll ask them questions about their goods that are on the opposite side of the stall than the stuff we actually wanted. The other person, Lyria, would then sneak over and start taking stuff. In order to get away without buying anything, I had to make a scene about how I couldn’t find my stuff to trade. Stuff like swearing it was right next to me and now it’s not, accusing the people around me, all before storming off in a huff. It was foolproof, she said. And, for the most part, it was. Following this pattern, we got me another pair of black pants, a couple of looser patchwork ones, a couple more shirts, and a leather jacket. We also stole twelve steaks for dinner that night. The butcher figured out that we were stealing his meat shortly after Lyria grabbed them. We barely escaped the

Ghaust that were sent after us. I actually saved the day by pulling Lyria into a dumpster. The Ghaust ran right by thinking we’d run further down. “You’re a genius, Mace.” Lyria swoops in and gives me a kiss on the cheek. I’m glad Lyria can’t see the stark crimson of my face. We hid in the dumpster for hours. It started off as a way to make sure that the Ghaust thought we were gone. But soon we started talking and lost track of time. I talked about how I came to be in the Wildlands, what my home life was like, my friendship with Joshua and Abe, how much I missed them and Davis, and lastly, how much I loved being around her in comparison. She talked about her life during the Great War, about Rick and Morris, her parents, and her run-ins with the Ghaust. Every once in a while, she would reach out and grab my arm, or rest her head on my shoulder, and every time I felt like my heart would burst. Soon, however, we knew that we had to get back. Lyria had to cook the steaks for the returning members, and we were having a meeting about what to do about the Ghausts’ public attack of the group. Lyria peeks out of the dumpster to make sure the road is clear. She sees no one, no shadow, and no suspicious movements. She throws open the lid and we both stand up. I wipe off the garbage that’s clinging to me. Although inside it seemed like a close, romantic setting, the reality is far from it. We hop out; I have something squishy in my shoe. We talk and laugh down each alley, each one more populous than the last. And then, all at once, it seemed like they all faded away. Just a few hunched figures loomed in the shadows of the streets, and they watched closely as our jubilant couple walked by. A cold breeze swept through the road we were walking when an old woman snatched my free hand. I let go of Lyria and spin around. The old woman has a protruding nose surrounded by waves of wrinkles and a spray of wispy white hair. Arthritic hands twist my hand around, and she follows the lines there with her bony fingers and sunken eyes. “You will fall into a great danger, a void in your life,” the old woman says. Lyria starts to pull me away, “Come on, Mace. It’s just some old woman.” I hold firm. “What did you say?”

The old woman clasps his hand in hers, like an oyster shell clasping it’s pearl. “You must be wary of your loves, Peter Lukeridge. They will bring you nothing but trouble.” “Come on, we’ve got to get back.” Lyria starts to walk away, pulling my arm. “Why do you know my name?” I call to the old woman. “Beware of death, Peter,” she says. Lyria drags me down the alley, away from the old woman. “But I’m already dead!” The old woman shakes her head and shuffles away. “What was that about?” I ask after Lyria stops dragging me away from the woman. “I don’t want you to get sucked into their prophecies. They’re not healthy and almost never true.” Lyria says. “Almost never?” “Sometimes they get lucky.” “Who are they?” “The Spynsters. Some people say they’ve been here ever since Fantomic began at the beginning of time. They usually stick to the shadows.” Lyria hooks her arm around mine. “Come on, let’s get home.” Inside, Lyria starts to cook the steaks right away. The others are expected to show up shortly after the daylight’s gone. Lyria tells me to set out crackers and assorted cheeses from the fridge around the large table in the dining room. The dining room served as the meeting place for them all and the barest of the rooms in the house. Lyria believes that the gaudy accessories that decorate the rest of the house are far too distracting to place in a room where important matters are discussed. Therefore, the table controls the empty room. I also set the table for nine people before sinking into one of the chairs in the entry hall. I quickly dose off to sleep. I wake to a choir of laughs in the dining room. I push up on the sides of the chair and feel my bones crack and strain from underuse. The sky’s black as a pupil and feels singed with anticipation. The doors to the dining room are closed, but voices and

a bright light leak from under the door. I open the door and blink under the ferocity of the light. The voices stop. I stumble in and close the door behind me. Through squinted eyes, I see a chair and promptly sit in it. On the plate is a cold steak, corn, and rice. Despite the temperature of the food, I grab a fork and knife and dig into the food, scattering bits of rice and corn off my plate as I slice. Every eye is on me. Lyria coughs. “So this is Peter, our newest member.” I slow my chewing and look up, registering the other people around the table for the first time. I set down my silverware and swallowed the food that’s in my mouth. “Are you with us now, Mace?” Lyria says. “We’ve been waiting for you so we could begin.” “You could have just woken me,” I mumble. “I like to let people work at their own pace. I didn’t think you’d sleep as long as you did.” Lyria turns to a muscular man sitting across the table from her. “Bass, would you like to speak for your group?” I gape slightly at the man. Apart from Councilman Roberts, he was the only black man I have ever come in contact with. During the war, the Christians sent many of them out to fight. They were the strongest fighters and best at coming up with the Christians’ trademark strategies. Because of this, the other religions had almost exterminated the entire race within the Christian community. “This time, the mission wasn’t completely fruitless of information,” he says. “We learned that the Wildland rebels are planning an attack on Center City.” Lyria picks up her glass of water and takes a long drink. When she sets her glass down, she stares at it. “Are you absolutely sure?” Bass leans back in his chair. “You know my sources are usually correct.” “You know what this means, right?” Acknowledging mummers are heard from the other members of the table. “No, what?” I say. I feel stupid, but it was only my first day here. “It means that there could be a new flood of people coming to Fantomic. If war breaks out between the Wildlands and Center City… the Ghaust could use it as an opportunity to seize more power and members. If they do that, they’ll probably swing back into power and start attacking people again. We cannot allow that to happen.”

The woman next to me speaks up. “What do you want us to do?” The woman is very plain. Shoulder length brown hair with bangs cut just above her eyes is her only distinguishing feature, and even that is barely memorable. “We try to bring them down.” This causes yet another rift down the table. Some talk for it, some against it, and all at once. “Stop!” Lyria screams. Everyone quiets down. Although everyone else is much older in look, no one denies Lyria’s power. “Now, how about we try to do that a little more orderly?” “I think we should do it. We’ve taken enough from the Ghaust,” Bass says. “With what forces? The 12 of us can’t possibly take on the whole gang,” says a woman with a bird tattooed across her face. “No, but we can gain forces. We just have to show everyone that we mean business and we’ll get more supporters,” Bass says. “How do you know?” Lyria asks. “I don’t know. But we’ve got to trust that people will rebel with us. Nobody likes the Ghaust. I’m positive we could even get some members to join us,” Bass says. “But there’s no way to be sure. I’m prepared to take the risk and take them on, if you believe we have a chance.” “I do.” “It’s settled then. We’re going to take on the Ghaust. Now how are we going to go about doing that?” “I don’t know,” Bass says. “Oh, finally you don’t know something,” says the girl with the tattoo. Bass stands up and knocks down a couple of the glasses. Lyria stands up just as fast. “Come on, now! We don’t need to be fighting ourselves.” Bass and the girl stare each other down before he takes his seat again. “Now. We need to come up with some ideas of how to attack the Ghaust without directly attacking the people. We don’t have enough manpower to do that, yet.” “What if we cut off their food supply?” The girl with the tattoo says.

“Melody, I think you may have something,” Lydia says. “Yeah, if they don’t have their food or water, they’ll be weaker to attack. It’ll take them a couple days of disorganization to get back into action, a couple days that we could use to pick away the rest of the gang,” Melody says. “The Ghaust just have their food supplies sitting around?” I ask. “Sort of. It’s all in a storage facility just outside of their temple. With a couple of well-placed bombs, we should be able to bring the whole building down. Their water supply also runs through there. Two birds with just a couple of bombs,” Lyria says. “And what’s stopping the Ghaust from just taking over the marketplace and taking all of the food there?” I say. “You’ve got a good point there. And—” Lyria looked hard at Bass, “—we’re not going to rig the marketplace. We’re not out to kill any civilians.” “I know that, Lyric,” Bass says. “I was going to suggest we do something around the marketplace to block the Ghaust from getting in. Like, perhaps we could knock one of the empty buildings down on each end of the street.” “There’s no reason to endanger the people on that street. Knocking down a building could cause debris to fall on the innocent, and I’m not having that,” said Lyria. “Would you allow him to blow up the building if there weren’t people on the street?” I say. “What?” “If there was no one in the marketplace, would you let Bass knock over a couple of buildings?” “Yeah, if it wasn’t endangering anyone, I don’t see what the problem would be.” “Wow.” I sit back in my chair. “I can’t believe you’d allow that much destruction.” “What, blowing up the storage facility wasn’t too much destruction for you but blowing down a couple of abandoned buildings is?” “One is a way to stop a group from gaining power. The other blocks everyone, not just the Ghaust, from getting food and supplies.” Lyria and I glare at each other. “Are you two… together or something?” Bass asks.

“No,” Lyria and I say together. “Oh, because it sounds like the kind of tension that used to be between—” “I don’t really care, Bass. What really matters to me is how we’re going to pull this feat off. We need to have everything planned out because we can put it into action, the sooner the better. We have all the supplies for the explosives, so we should be able to plan out the attack within a few days.” “Yeah, I guess,” Bass says. “What if we just damaged their vehicles, too?” one of the men who hasn’t talked the entire time says. He has short hair sticking up to one side of his head, while the other side is long and covered his face. It was jet black. “That is a much better idea than blowing up buildings,” I say. “Do we have sugar or sand? We could fill their gas tanks.” “I like this. We’re getting somewhere,” Lyria says. “Now let’s flesh this idea out a little more.” They talk for the rest of the night about the best ways to attack the gang. Lyria pulls blueprint plans out and figure out where the bombs would have to be planted. She figures out where the vehicles are kept and how everyone would get in. The plans are finalized just as the sun is coming up. We would spend the next day getting ready for the attack. I, on the other hand, would be sleeping. I barely pay attention to the plans; I keep dozing off. When everyone disperses throughout the house with their assignments from Lyria, I make my way upstairs to my bed. I crash on it and fall asleep without even taking my clothes off. What seems like just a short time later, I wake up to Lyria shaking me. “Peter!” She says. “Wake up.” “I don’t want to. The sun’s barely up, and I’ve barely slept.” “I don’t care. I need to talk to you about something.” Lyria giggles and falls onto the bed. It was then that I realize that she might be a little drunk. “About what?” I turn over and she falls off of me. “Earlier. I’m really sorry about the whole yelling and arguing thing. It’s not your fault that you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, wow, thanks, Lyria.” I lean back with my hands behind my head. Lyria rests her hand on my cheek. “You’re really sweet, you know?” “I guess.” Lyria rolls on top of me and gives me a quick peck. She laughs and lies down on my chest and promptly falls asleep on my chest, her arms wrap around my waist. I brush Lyria’s hair back behind her ear and fall in love.

Stunted In one of the numerous back alleys of Center City, Peter saw a lost worker. Peter stopped because he was always told that you should never talk to workers from the Wildlands. Peter was 12-years-old. It was a good thing that he stopped, because from out behind one of dumpsters came a group of older boys. They walked straight up to the worker and pushed him to the ground. Peter ran straight to the side of the alley and pressed up against the alley wall. The boys began to kick the man and Peter winced every time, as if it was he that was being kicked. Peter accidentally kicked a can while he was backing out of the alley. The older boys all looked back at him with fury burning from them. Peter stood strong, like he was going to take them all on. That, however, changed as soon as one of the boys started to walk towards him. He turned around and ran as fast as he could from the situation. At the end of the alley, Peter heard the worker scream.

Chapter Four: A Worm in the Apple Tree I wake with empty arms. Lyria must have crept out to go back to work, or perhaps to keep our relationship from suspicion. Either way, she’s gone, and I felt her absence like a loss of blood. Groggily, I get out of bed and prepare to work on the day’s preparations. As soon as I’m up on my feet, though, I regret it. The cover’s itchy, but warm and familiar, associated with good memories. The future holds nothing but mystery. The house is full of commotion when I enter the hallway. People are carrying large piles of supplies to and from the upstairs rooms, some of which have been converted into labs where the bombs are being made. This is obviously not the first time they have planned such an attack. Lyria is standing at the top of the stairway, in control of it all. She waves people on and pulls people over. She has a clipboard full of papers that she keeps flipping through full of calculations, formulas, and building layouts. Everything has to be perfect and perfectly timed if we are to get away with it.

I make my way through the swarm of people to Lyria. At first she doesn’t notice I’m there. Her mind is lost in the pages darkened with formulas and quantities. When she finally notices, her voice is coarse. “What?” I recoil slightly, not anticipating the harsh tone. “Anything I can do to help?” “Know chemistry?” “No. I failed it.” “Can you do statistics or probability?” “I was supposed to do that this year.” “Then you’re totally useless to me. Go back to your room.” I hesitate for a second, not sure if she means it or not. “I said go! I don’t have time for you right now.” She means it. I start to walk back to my room. Bass slams the doors downstairs open, a fresh cut across his arm. He’s wheeling in one of the Ghausts’ bikes. Behind him, a group of lackeys from the meeting the night before are carrying large bags of sand. “Peter!” Lyria calls out. “Can you handle measuring?” I turn around, “Yeah, I can do that.” “Good, go downstairs and give Bass a hand measuring out the sand. We need to stop the Ghaust from using their bikes to get to the marketplace.” I bound down the stairs. I don’t like the idea of having to measure out sand, but I like the idea of being able to be part of the group. Bass and the other guys downstairs start to measure how much sand it takes to stop bike from running. Bass is straddling the motorcycle while one of the other men pours sand into the gas tank one cup at a time. After every cup poured in, Bass starts the bike to see if it runs. If it does, he stops and another cup is poured in. The goal is to find how much sand is needed to stop the motorcycle from running so that we could pre-fill bags with the right amount of sand. That way, when the time came to pour the sand in, there was no time wasted. The operative who pours the sand into the bike would just have to empty one bag into the gas tank and move on. It soon becomes obvious that we’re going to need a large amount of sand in order to stop the flow of gas. We emptied 5 cups of sand into the gas tank, a lot of sand

for a person to carry more than three of easily, and the motorcycle is still running. It probably would have stopped a bike in my world, but here the bikes seemed to run under any condition. Bass consults Lyria about this problem. I’m not close enough to hear their conversation, but it seems heated for a moment. Then, Lyria storms off into one of the lab rooms. She comes back with a vial of liquid that she hands to Bass. Bass comes back down with a face of frustration and anger. “She’s going to get us all killed, that girl. Risking our lives just to get this right….” Bass pours the liquid into two cups of sand. He mixes it around and pours it into the gas tank. Bass climbs on top and tries to start the engine, but it continuously stalls. “What was that stuff?” I say. “Lyrome,” says Bass. “It’s a compound that Lyria invented a few years ago. It reacts with oil in a way that causes the oil to be very thick and sticky. Essentially, it changes the oil’s chemical formula to something else. Combined with the sand, the motorcycle has no way of accessing any oil. It also stays around, causing any new oil to react the same way.” “That sounds fantastic! Why didn’t we use it in the first place?” “It had some problems during the field test. We found that the substance by itself is highly explosive and unstable. It does what we need it to do, but at a great risk. We thought we could just combine it with sand before hand, but we discovered that the sand neutralizes the compound over a period of time, so we had to carry them separately. We vowed never to use it again after three of our agents died in the explosion that took place after one of them dropped one of the vials. Now, however, Ms. Chemistry up there wants us to use it.” Bass jumps off the bike and starts opening the bags of sand. “Why don’t you just ignore her?” “Because this is her house, her rules. I don’t want to join the gang, and I don’t know what would happen if I revolted against her wishes. Start filling up these bags with two cups of sand.” Bass hands me a carton of medium sized plastic bags and a 2cup measuring cup. “She’s in total control over you all then?” I start to fill the bags.

“Yes, and she enjoys keeping it that way. She looks so young, but her mind and attitude are as old as she should be.” Bass starts to fill more bags out of a different bag of sand. The other men are either doing the same or they had gone off to help elsewhere. “And how old is that? How old would she be if she hadn’t, you know, died?” “I’m not sure. Has to be around 53, by now. All this time here in Fantomic has really changed her.” “How long have you been here? Did you know her before?” “Before I died, I was a guide. I could see the people here in Fantomic and interact with them. I’m sure Lyria told them all about them.” I nod. “I was one of the few that actually did interact with them. And Lyria was the one I spent the most time with.” The two of us worked in silence from then on. I can tell he’s keeping something back; the two of them were closer than that. It was a couple hours before Bass and I finished off the last of the bags. Ten minutes later, Lyria comes down with a couple of leather bags. She hands them to everyone but me. The men around me opened them and seem afraid of the seven vials that were contained within them. “We’ll be heading out in an hour. Be ready.” “Lyria— “ She walks away without any acknowledgment that I’m even there. I drop my shoulders and stare at the ground, slightly crushed. Bass places his hand comfortably on my shoulder, and squeezes it. “Many young men have gone down that road, Peter. It’s a dark one that few recover from.” “But I’ve got to try, don’t I?” “If that’s what you really want.” I heard Lyria’s screaming voice yelling at the technicians upstairs. A little less than an hour later, we’re all crammed into four separate cars heading out to our corresponding locations. Bass’ group is heading to the garage of the headquarters; Melody’s group is setting the charges at the food storage building.

Lyria and I are going to keep watch from a hill a distance away. Lyria listens in on the Ghausts’ headsets just in case they get suspicious before the groups act. I’m linked to Bass and Melody by a headset. Everything goes well at first. Bass’ team fills every motorcycle with precision and gets out of there quick. I let Melody’s crew know that they can continue with the plan and set the charges, now that the Ghaust wouldn’t be able to chase on their bikes. And that’s when things get hairy. The Ghaust suddenly ambushes Bass’ team. Screams for help came over the headset. I run uphill to where Lyria is standing in a panic. “What is going on?” I yell. “I don’t know, they didn’t say anything over their coms, and now suddenly they’re there.” Lyria points to a spot in the distance. There’s a large crowd of commotion outside the garage. “I was watching through my binoculars. They were so fast, I didn’t know what to do, and I couldn’t warn them in time.” Lyria buries her head into my shoulder. We embrace each other and I slowly sway her around in a circle, trying to comfort her and guide her away from the sight. “Bass, oh god, Bass. Why did I even start this? I was foolish. We can’t take on the Ghaust, not now.” “You believed we could, and best of all, they believed you.” “Best of all?” Lyria pushes me away. “I killed them. The Ghaust may have done the physical work, but I convinced them to go out there. I convinced them that there would be no problems, that they would all come back safe. Do you know what that feels like?” And behind Lyria, the storage building explodes in an orange geyser. A wave of hot hair blows past us both, whipping Lyria’s hair around her face and exposing all the layers of color. A chorus of motorcycle engines fills the air. Lyria twists around fast, almost not moving her feet. She looks through her binoculars over at the scene. “The bikes are heading away from the blast, not towards. Quick, get Melody on the radio; did they get out in time? What happened? I didn’t give the word to set off the explosives.” She sits down and grips her hair. “Please tell me they’re fine, Peter. I need to know that they’re fine.”

I walk down the hill a ways, leaving Lyria in her emotional collapse. “Melody,” I say into the headset. Static answers me. “Melody!” More static. For Lyria’s sake, I want there to be an answer. “Melody! Are you okay?” Still static, nothing but white noise looms over the headset. Lyria sniffs loudly behind me. Somehow she managed to get behind me without me noticing. “Did you get a hold of her?” “No, just static.” Lyria’s body shrinks a little more. Her breath is wheezy, her eyes puffy. “I just can’t cry anymore. I sent all those people out there to die. They trusted me, and I failed them. Again.” I wonder how many times she’s failed at taking over the Ghaust. “Her com could have broke. Maybe she’s still alive. And don’t beat yourself up about it, they knew what they were getting into.” “I’m glad you died, Peter. I don’t know what I would be doing without you here.” “Um, thanks, I guess.” Lyria hugs me and lays her head on my chest. I stroke her back reassuringly. “I should have known that there was another garage,” she says. “Heart’s too smart to let her gang be exposed to any critical weakness. They probably have another food storage too. How could I have been so stupid?” “Nobody can know everything.” “But I did know everything. I went over maps, blueprints, everything. Everything should have gone as planned. But they were one step ahead of us.” “Maybe someone was a mole for the Ghaust.” “A what?” “A spy. Someone reporting back what we had planned.” “No, they wouldn’t have…” “I guess so, I mean, they would have let their mole live, right?” Lyria hugs me tighter. The headset buzzed to life, “Peter? Peter, I’m alright.” The voice is Melody’s. Lyria’s eyes glaze over with hope, while mine flood with anxiety.

Growing Up Peter was 9-years-old when his mother’s third maid died. He was running around the house with a blanket around his shoulders. He was trying to be a superhero, but the blanket was far too large for him to run around the house with it on his shoulders. Instead, he tugged and pulled the blanket through the house. He had finally dragged the blanket into the dining room when he noticed the maid lying on the table. He dropped the blanket, pulled out one of the chairs, and pulled himself up onto the table. She was wearing a simple white dress now stained at the edges with blood. The blood had pooled nicely across the table, soaking mostly into the maid’s dress and the tablecloth. The tablecloth was scooted down and all of the glasses had fallen and broken. Under the maid’s head was a broken vase, the flowers now ringing her head in a field of glass. Another vase was missing, and Peter assumed that the maid was laying on it. Since he was a little kid, he assumed she had fallen asleep on the table. Peter climbed off the table and went into the bathroom. Under the sink was a stool that he used to reach the sink to brush his teeth. He pulled it out and climbed up to the sink. He stretched out and opened the medicine cabinet. Inside, he grabbed a couple of Baby Jesus Band-Aids. He started to run back to his mother’s maid, to wake her up and give her the Band-Aids for her cuts, when he ran into his father’s new driver, Davis. He flew

backwards and the Band-Aids flew from his hand. Davis kneeled down and picked Peter up. He brushed him off and set him down on his feet. “You ought to pay attention where you’re going, Young Master,” Davis said. Because Davis was new, Peter didn’t know who he was and was wary of responding. “Where were you running with all those Band-Aids?” “To the dining room,” Peter mumbled. “Mother’s maid is sleeping on the table, I’m bringing her some Band-Aids.” “What’s she doing on the table?” “I don’t know, she must have been real tired.” “Why don’t you take me to her? I can help you give her those Band-Aids.” Peter led Davis down the hallway and into the dining room. When they got there, Davis gasped heavily. “Young Master, please go to your room this instant.” Davis said. “But—” “No buts, I’ll take care of her for you. Your Mother or Father will come get you from your room later on.” Peter trudged to his room. Shortly after, he heard police sirens making their way up the hill to their house. Deep voices and loud noises filled the house, but Peter stayed in his room like he was told. An hour later, his tear-stricken mother came into his room and hugged him close. “Is the maid okay?” He asked. “Yes, honey. Rosanne has just gone on to meet God. She won’t be with us anymore.” “Can I meet God, too?” He asked “No, sweetheart.” She pulled away and looked into his eyes while stroking his soft brown hair. “Not until the time is right, when you’re very very old.” She hugged him closer and cried into his shoulder. He fell asleep in her arms.

Chapter Five: The City in Fall I open my eyes slowly, unsure of where I am. Lyria is in my arms, and I’m fairly certain that neither of use is wearing clothes. Her warmth seems to spill out across my body. Our limbs are entangled and facing each other. I pull away from her. She moves slightly but stays asleep. I close my eyes and try to remember what happened the night before. I remember the explosion, and finding Melody. I remember Lyria bringing out alcohol to celebrate a successful mission, we had blown up the storage facility after all, and to forget about what price it had cost. Everything after that seemed… distant and hard to grasp. When I open my eyes, Lyria is staring at me with big purple eyes. She’s smiling and her cheeks are flushed. “Good morning, Mace,” she says. “Your eyes are purple now,” I say. “It was a side-effect of the radiation. The change sometimes.” She leans in and kisses me quickly and passionately, like she’s trying to transfer all of her feelings into my body. When she pulls away, her smile fades. “I think Melody is the mole.” My head is spinning. “Mole?” “Like you were saying last night after the explosion—” Lyria pauses and her eyes moisten. She rubs them before continuing. “You said that there must have been a mole, a spy in our operation, that told the Ghaust that we were coming. I think it ’s

Melody.” “Mel? Why?” I lean up and put my arm under my head. Lyria curls up against me. “Well just think about it. She pushed for the attack and didn’t seem as fazed by the danger as everyone else was. She wasn’t on edge like… like Bass was. And then she was the only one who walked out of there. How?” I pull Lyria closer to me. “How?” “She sold us out, Mace. But now she’s gonna help us get revenge, whether she likes it or not.” “What do you mean?” “Don’t worry about it.” Lyria rolls away from me and stands up. The sun glitters on her bare skin as she slips on a patchwork robe. “I’m going to make some pancakes, want a couple?” “Yeah, sure,” I say, staring at her dumbfounded as she leaves the room. I don’t get her at all, can’t seem to follow her thought process, but yet I can’t think of any reason I would want to leave her. Lyria leaves to go talk to Melody halfway through breakfast. I sit and eat my pancakes and toast to a myriad of shouting from upstairs. I’m about to finish my eggs, when I hear the shouts become screams for help and the sound of wood breaking. I sit down my fork; the egg whites attached limply resting on the plate. I sit up and walk cautiously up the stairs. The screaming is coming from the third door down the hall and definitely is coming from Melody. I try to open the door, but find that it’s locked. “Lyria!” I call through the door. “Lyria, it’s me, open the door.” The door opens quickly and Lyria blocks the doorway. “What do you want?” Over Lyria’s shoulder, Melody is huddled in a corner, covered in blood and cuts. Broken remnants of a chair are scattered around the room. “Are you trying to kill her?” “She won’t talk. I’m doing what is necessary to take down the Ghaust. If that involves nearly killing the woman responsible for the deaths of my other men, then so be it.”

“Lyria, why don’t you let me talk to her? I bet I could get her to tell me without all this violence. Like good cop, bad cop.” Lyria shakes her head. “This isn’t your world or your place, Peter. Go back down and finish your breakfast. It’ll be over soon.” Lyria closes the door. I stand and stare at it. I turn and walk down the hallway before looking back behind me again. I walk back over to the door and put my ear to the grain. “See? Baby Peter isn’t going to help you out of this. Now how about you be a good girl and tell me what the Ghaust are planning.” Melody laughs. “Never, you fucking bitch.” I hear a snap, and Melody scream in pain. “Mel, there are 206 bones in the adult human body, and I know how to break most of them. Now, tell me what the Ghaust are planning.” “Maybe you could get Bass to try some of his techniques. Oh wait, that’s right, your brother is dead, isn’t he?” Another snap, this time much louder. Now I can see why Lyria is so intent on hurting Melody, Bass had been her brother, and it was Melody’s fault that he was dead. That must have been what they were keeping back. “I don’t need Bass here, I can kill you on my own.” Another snap, another scream. “Fuck!” Melody screams. “This can all end, Mel. It’s really simple. Just tell me how you’re involved with the Ghaust and what they’re planning.” A large cracking sound pierces through the door. “I’m a spy, goddammit!” This time I hear Lyria smack Melody. “Tell me something I don’t know, and this could all end soon.” “I was told to join your group and spy on you because Heart was worried you could pose a threat.” Heart, the name is familiar to me but I can’t quite place it. “Obviously she was right.” “Damn right. Now, what’s their plan?” Melody sniffs loudly. “There is no plan. They hoped that destroying your group

would destroy you. I told them about your plan and they moved most of the food to another storage unit and then placed covert groups from the Wildlands to attack you once you thought you were ahead.” There’s another smack. “Where is the other storage unit?” “Fuck you.” I hear Melody spit. A loud crack follows. “Tell me.” Melody coughs. “The marketplace.” Her voice sounds weak. “You’re going to take Peter and I there.” The door opens, and I find myself staring at a very bloody Lyria. “Oh, good, I see I don’t have to explain anything to you.” She closed the door behind her. “I’m going to get cleaned up and set a few bones for our friend so she’ll be able to take us to the storage unit. later First, though, we need to take a trip to the City for reinforcements.” “Is she going to be okay?” “No, she’s not going to be okay.” Lyria starts to walk down to the bathrooms. “Oh, Peter.” Lyria turns around. “Can you go down to the lab and make sure that we have plenty of poison? It’s in the cabinet and labeled.” She walks into the bathroom and locks the door. Three hours later, we’re on our way downtown. The twists and curves of Lyria’s manic driving were now familiar to me. She seems stressed out, gripping the steering wheel as hard as she can. I can still see flakes of dried blood underneath her fingernails. I have to get away from her. As much as I need her, she can become crazy, I’ve seen it. What if she ever did that to me? The sidewalk becomes more and more crowded with live people. Lyria drives the car in and out of traffic. “What happens if we get stuck in the middle of traffic?” “What?” She doesn’t take her eyes off the road. “What happens if we get stuck in the middle of traffic? Is there an empty space in the road that the driver leaves open subconsciously? Or does the car just not exist at all to them and we’re the only ones who can see this space?” Lyria bangs on the steering wheel. “What do you want from me, Pete? I don’t

have the answers to everything to do with Fantomic. Some things don’t have answers, they just are, deal with it.” I sit silently. We close in on the main road of the City and our car gets stuck in traffic. “How about I just go out and check?” I open my door and run away from the car before Lyria can react. I pad through the cars, trying to keep low and quiet. Lyria calls my name and curses before giving chase. I can hear her footsteps slam into the pavement as if they’re the only noise in the world. I dip and dive through the gridlocked cars, making my way deeper into the City. I sneak glances behind me to see if she’s still following me and catch glimpses of her hair tumbling to keep up with the rest of her body. I run behind a building and press my back to the wall. A stay there, panting, waiting to see if she’ll realize I ran down the alley. I never see her go by. A door slams open to my left and four men in Wildlands clothes rush out. I stare at them, but they don’t seem to notice me. They run away as fast as they can; I would too, if I was them. The City council doesn’t think too highly of invading Wilderlanders. I stop clinging to the wall and started jogging towards the end of the alley when I heard a loud explosion and bricks catapulted into my side. I duck and cover my head as I run to the end of the alley.

The Ones That Drop When Peter was just a little boy, his mother devoted most of her time to her garden. Around the outside of the yard, she had planted rose bushes, lilacs, sunflowers, and scattered millet. The flowers were bright and cheerful, while the millet brought many different kinds of birds into the yard. There was hardly a moment when a chorus of birdsongs couldn’t be heard. The middle of the hard was lush grass for Peter to play on. In the center of the garden was a large Ruoak tree, a species of tree that hadn’t existed before the War. It was tall and hard with bright red leaves year-round. It’s branches expanded to cover half of the yard. Built into the middle of the tree, at the top of the trunk, was a tree house. Peter’s father had built it for him when Peter had just been born. Over the next eight years, his father took care of the tree house and the tree grew around it. Peter played in it whenever he could. It became his refuge from the world. He brought friends up there and they read comics, played board games, and generally talked. That was, until he was eight. He and his friend Gabriel were playing Christians and Heathens. It was his turn to be the heathen, so he was running away from Gabriel while yelling his disbelief of Jesus Christ. He wasn’t paying attention to where he was going, and ended up toppling out of the tree house. He fell through the branches and landed with a crack on the ground. An old woman walking by their yard said, “The rotten apples are the first to fall from the tree,” before walking away, not even bothering to check if Peter was all right.

He broke his leg and his arm and never went up into the tree again.

Chapter Six: Picking Poison Apples I land on the ground abruptly. I roll over and groan, as the bright light above me seems to melt my eyes. I shut them quickly. My whole body aches. I stretch out as best I can, but my muscles seem tense as if I hadn’t used them for days. The light on my eyes dims and I open them to see my vision encompasses with Lyria’s face. I try to scramble away from her smile, try to stand up and run away again. I had hopes of visiting my friends, my family, just one last time. If only I hadn’t…. I can’t remember. Why am I so sore, how did I manage to fall on the sidewalk here? I was in an alley, and now I’m near the business district where I had first met Lyria. “You okay?” She offers me her hand and I hesitate to grab it. I had seen her torture a woman, a friend of hers, almost to death. Yet here she was, offering me a loving hand. She didn’t add up. I grab it and she pulls me up. I try to help her, but I can’t seem to control my own body anymore. “You died.” she says. I look at her funny. “When the building exploded? The Wildland rebellion started with the explosion of the building you were hiding behind.” “Is that why I feel like a building landed on top of me?” I say. She smiles and punches me in the arm, sending spider webs of pain through it. “It gets better after time.” She points to three cars parked along the side of the road. Through the open windows, I can see men wearing tattered suits in two of them. Recruits from the explosion. The third appears to be empty. “The new recruits have

been training while you were still dead, I wouldn’t start our last attempt without you. Ready to get back to the real action?” “Not really.” Lyria leans down and grabs my waist and puts my arm around her neck. She lifts me up and starts more or less dragging me to the empty car. “Come on, I saved a seat just for you. You should have all your strength back by the time we get there.” We’re riding in the car down to the marketplace. Lyria is driving and I’m riding shotgun. Melody is sitting in the back, covered in casts from the waist up with cuts all over her face. She won’t make eye contact with either of us. The other two cars are keeping a steady distance and taking alternate routes so it won’t be completely obvious we’re all going to the same place. Lyria was right, I feel almost as good as I did before I ran away from the car that afternoon. “Turn down here.” Melody mumbles. Lyria turns down and stops outside of a large brown building. Lyria calls the other cars and tells them where they are. She then hands me a syringe and a small bottle of poison. “When we get inside, head straight for the fruit, especially apples. Inject the poison straight into them. If we hit a decent number of them, we’re likely to kill off some of Heart’s right-hand men.” Lyria hops out of the car and opens the back door. “Get out.” Melody scoots towards the side of the car, since neither of her arms is available. When she gets to the edge, Lyria helps her out. I step out of the car and look up and down the street. No one is around. It takes a few minutes for the other cars to arrive. When they do, Lyria hands out a syringe and a small bottom of poison and gives them the same directions she gave me. Lyria, Melody, and I walk up to the door. A keypad is on the side of the door. “What’s the password?” “21847.” Lyria punches it in and the door buzzes. She pushes it open and the group enters the dimly lit warehouse. Lyria flicks on the lights. Stacks of food illuminate. Most are in boxes, but some of the food spills out. “Thanks for your services, Mel.” Lyria stabs her syringe into Melody’s arm and

injects her with poison. Melody gasps before falling to the floor. “What did you do that for?” What kind of maniac have I fallen for? Have I followed? “She was a snitch who got my brother killed. Why wouldn’t I kill her, too? Come on, let’s poison some apples.” I follow Lyria into the depths of the warehouse, but I can’t help watching Melody’s body shaking the last of her life away. It took us 10 minutes to track down the apples. We get right to emptying syringes full of poison into every apple. There weren’t many apples left by the time we ran out of poison. We hid the bottles and syringes in a pile of potatoes. “Now what?” “Now we wait for the empire to start crumbling down.” Our group walks out of the warehouse, passing Melody’s body silently. They open the front door and the sun seems to shine down on us brighter, as if it’s already a better world outside because of the atrocity we committed. As soon as we walk outside, a bag is thrust over my heads. I struggle and try to hit whoever put the bag on. There’s a weird acidic smell in the air of the bag. I feel dizzy and my legs crumble. I can hear bodies near me do the same, and Lyria’s cry of anger is the loudest sound. “The Heart sends her regards,” I hear a deep voice say before I faint.

The Scent of Fall Peter cuddled up to his Mother, and emerged himself in her scent. She didn’t believe in wearing perfume like sunscreen or smelling unnatural. She reminded Peter of the earth outside. Whenever he hugged close to her, she brought up memories of playing in the leaves outside and lying in the grass. She wasn’t around much anymore, always coming and going at the whims of the Church. Mother was the head of all Choir programs within the City and had to attend meetings constantly to organize events. But whenever she was around, Peter wrapped her around him and snuggled into her warmth. She felt like home.

Chapter Seven: The End of a Harvest My eyes flutter open and quickly adapt to the low light environment around me. From what I can tell, I’m in a cell, lying on a cot made of rough leather. Another one hangs above my head, a pale, delicate, claw-like hand hangs loosely from it. The light for the room came in through a small window at the top of the door leading outside and a small slot at the bottom of the door. I sit up in the cot and stretched out my legs. Every muscle in my body feels tight and weak. Trays of food scraps, most starting to rot, are scattered across the floor. “You’re up.” Lyria says from above me. I look up to her smiling face. Her face is dirty and her hair is matted, making the usually iridescent colors seem dull. “How long have I been out?” “Two days.” She jumps down from the cot. “I’ve been eating your share of the food. Sorry. I’m sure they’ll be bringing more soon.” Lyria walks over to the door and starts pounding on it. “Hey, he’s up! Can you hear me? He’s up! Bring us some food.” She walks over to my cot and sits down next to me. “I don’t know what they’re going to do. Hopefully they won’t throw us into the void.” “The void?” There’s a knock at the door and two trays of food slip in. Lyria gets up and grabs the two trays and brings them over to the cot. She hands one to me. On the trays is just a small sandwich that appears to be ham, a small pile of chips, and an apple. I make a mental note not to eat the apple, just in case. The rest of the food, I scarf down and immediately wish I hadn’t. I was okay before I started to eat, but once I started, I realized how hungry I was. After finishing the food on my tray, I want more. Lyria picks a card up from her tray and quickly reads it. She walks over to the door

and knocks twice. “The Heart wants to see us,” she tells me. Sure enough, a guard comes and escorts the two of us out of the cell. The hallway is polished and gleams as if water flows over top of the marble. At the end of the hallway, we walk through two doors as big as the wall made of polished bronze. Through the doors, we enter a large room with another set of doors on the opposite end. The floor is covered in silk pillows stacked in piles as tall as my waist. Men and women lay throughout the pillow in skimpy, mostly see-through, clothes. In the center of the room is a throne made of an assortment of plastic objects, fashioned in the same way as many of the homes and items from the Wildlands. Sitting in the throne is a woman of immeasurable beauty. She has long shining black hair covered partly at the hairline by a thin gold crown adorned with jewels. She’s wearing a long flowing dress of silver so pure it was almost like liquid surrounding her body. On her wrists, she had gauntlets made of similar materials as her throne. When we enter the throne room, everything is quiet. The guard that led us into the room closes the door behind us. The woman in the throne stands up and her dress shimmers and morphs to a shape that clings tighter to her body. Lyria leans back on her leg and crosses her arms. “Heart,” she says bitterly. Heart inclines her head in Lyria’s direction. “Lyric,” she says. “Well here we are again. What are you going to do this time? Kill me again? You know we’ll find ourselves in the same position. Although this time I got closer to taking you out. Wanna risk it again? I can gather more forces next time, watch your spies closer. That was a good trick, converting Melody to your side.” “I thought so too. That was a nice trick, poisoning all of my apples. Unfortunately for you, I gave them up last week because of their acidic value. Many of my associates weren’t as fortunate.” “Glad to here all our hard work wasn’t wasted.” “So I guess you two know each other than?” I say. Heart laughs and walks over to us. “Oh dear, you don’t think this is the first time that dear Lyric attempted to bring my gang down? You never questioned how she knew so much about my empire? She has experience that you cannot imagine.”

“I guess I never thought about it.” I could feel Heart’s eyes on my head, but I couldn’t force myself to look into them. “You never needed to, I had it all in control.” Lyria says. “Oh? And what do you have in control now? I’ve left you with nothing. While you were in that cell, I had your house emptied. I had all of your new recruits killed outside of the warehouse yesterday. It was only pity that led me to leave your new toy alive. And as we speak, I have my men waiting at the drop off points for those men that died during the explosion. They’ll be fed into the void within days, including that handsome brother of yours.” Lyria lunges forward to attack Heart, but the men and woman from the room instantly pull out weapons from between the pillows and train on Lyria. “Now, now, dear Lyric. Hear me out.” Lyria calms down, but her breathing is still strong. My eyes flit between the two of them. “I know that you just want my power. The reason you hate me so much is because I gained power quicker than you, even though you were here first.” “No, I hate you because of the pain you inflict upon the people of this city.” Heart turns circles around Lyria. “I know what you tell people your reasons are, but you know it’s nothing like that. You yourself can inflict unmerciful pain upon a soul if it helps you get ahead. I’m sure even your boy here can see that. He walked in on you and Melody, did he not?” “I—” “Don’t talk to her, Peter.” Lyria pushes Peter behind her. “Leave him out of this, Macy.” Heart reaches across and smacks Lyria across the face, her long fingernails leaving four deep cuts across Lyria’s face. “How dare you speak my name?” “Macy Heart?” I say. Lyria holds a piece of cloth to her face and tries to clean up the wound. Blood pours down her face. “Foolish boy, what did I just say?” Heart moves her hand back. I cover my face and shout as her hand comes down, “Davis! Davis Albright.” Heart’s expression drops and her hand falters. “What did you just say?” Heart whispers. “Davis. He told me to find you in the Wildlands, but I never did. Guess I know

why.” “How do you know him?” Heart seems weaker than she was a moment ago. Lyria sees this and jumps Heart from behind. However, she has no weapon and Heart throws her off into the welcoming arms of the guards. “Who the fuck is Davis?” Lyria says, struggling to get out of the guards’ grasp. “He was my butler and my friend. He helped me sneak out to the Wildlands in hopes I could find you and let you know he’s okay.” Heart nods slowly, wipes a tear from her eye, and straightens up. “My fight is not with you, as long as I never find out you are lying. You will be safe within my organization.” She whirls around to Lyria as if the whole scene never happened. “You, unlike your boy, had better let me finish without anymore interruptions.” Lyria breaks free of the guards and sits down on one of the pillows. “Fine, I’m listening.” The guards move in to grab her once more, but Heart motions them away. “I want to offer you leadership.” Lyria sits up straight in her pile of pillows. “What? Just like that?” Heart laughs. “Of course not. You have to beat me in a duel. Get me to surrender, and the position is yours. That simple.” I creep over to Lyria. “This could give you the opportunity you need to kill her. If she’s dead, the gang will most likely fall apart.” Lyria nods, but I can tell her mind is somewhere else. “I accept your challenge, Lady Heart.” Heart’s dress changes again, this time to more resemble armor that covers her torso. “I expect a good fight, Mistress Lyric.” Heart leads us to the door at the back of the room. “Put those on.” Heart motions towards a couple pairs of metal boots by the door. She already had a pair on. Heart enters a code into the door panel and the door swings open. Instantly the room fills with wind, but I can’t hear it. The pillows pick up off of the ground and fly past us into the new room. We follow the pillows into an enormous room covered in lights. There’s a platform that runs the parameter of the room at our

level. A short staircase connects us to a platform held up by a series of thick cables attached to the ceiling. Right underneath of the platform is, I suspect, the void everyone keeps mentioning. The lights in the room are pointed directly at it, but when they reach the void, they swirl around it and give it an off-blue color. A bright ball of the light characterized the center. The pillows sink into its layers and disappear. Not a single sound can be heard; presumably the void is sucking in the sound as well. I follow behind Heart with a couple of the guards and Lyria. As soon as I step onto the floor in the room, it becomes harder to walk. The boots stick close to the floor and feel like they weigh fifty pounds. It isn’t bad, though. The wind forces in towards the void, and if I wasn’t wearing the boots, I would probably fly straight into it. Heart immediately walks up to the hanging platform. Two swords and two wooden staffs are laid out on a tilted table at the top of the stairs, fastened down by thick cables. Heart selects one of the swords and walks to the far end of the platform. Lyria follows her up the stairs, but selects one of the staffs. She stands opposite from Heart. Neither of them moves for a few minutes, and then both run toward the other until they meet at the center. Heart goes right away for a crimpling move, but Lyria dodges it. Heart continues to swing the sword around and jab after Lyria, but Lyria is practically dancing around her moves. Every once in a while, Lyria would strike out and smack one of Heart’s legs. It’s soon apparent to me what Lyria was trying to do. She’s trying to tire Heart out so that she physically wouldn’t be able to fight. Heart manages to hit several times, once slicing down Lyria’s arm and the second her leg. Lyria, at a distinct disadvantage now, had to act. Blood coats Lyria’s arm, leg, and face, pumping out faster and faster as Lyria’s heart worked harder to fuel her body. Heart moves back, hoping to avoid Lyria until she faints from blood loss. Lyria, however, lets Heart cover no ground. Lyria lashes out with the staff and strikes Heart’s wielding hand fiercely. A cry spreads across Heart’s face as she drops her sword as her fingers reacted to the pain. The sword flies down to the void, tearing through a section of the chain net that prevented anyone from falling off the platform. Lyria continues to strike Heart back to the edge of the platform that was newly opened. Heart grabs each end of the staff to keep herself from falling over the edge. “I surrender,” she mouths. Lyria pushes harder, her face full of hate. Then she

pulls back and shakes Heart’s hand. I run up to the platform. “What are you doing?” I mouth to Lyria. “I can do more good by reorganizing the gang than I can with a city in chaos,” she mouths back. I shake my head. “I’ve seen you with power, Lyria. You become obsessed and don’t see the consequences of your actions. You’ll become just as corrupt as Heart and then where would you be? You would have accomplished nothing.” Lyria grabs my hands and gives me a pitying look, as if to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. “Don’t worry,” she mouths. “I love you.” She hugs me close to her and spins around in a circle. She slips her hands into my back pockets and I wrap my arms around her. She pulls her arms out from around me and puts them back on my arms. She looks me in the eyes and leans in to kiss me. I feel no passion behind it, just coldness. I pull away and stare at her, confused. “I’m sorry,” she says before pushing me over the edge of the platform. Time slows down for me. My feet struggle to find solid ground as my body falls quickly into the void. I lose feeling in all my limbs, and my vision fades to black. And then I was no more.

The End

Peter was in a hallway with doors lining each side, each identical to the other. He’s running through them, lost in his house. Each hallway he ran down lead to just another set of doors. He was too afraid to open any of the doors, but sure that there was a way out of this floor. After a few minutes, he turned down a hallway with a man standing at the end. He was wearing a bright suit of white that seemed to glow like light. He looked at Peter and then disappeared. Peter ran after him. At the end of the hallway, where the man was standing, there was the main staircase. Peter looked in every direction, but couldn’t find a trace of him. He shrugged and slid down the marble stairs.


Watermelon I was born on October 6, 1990, but I wasn’t alone. Along with my parents and my family and friend who came to support my mom, I was born with a twin brother. My brother and I weren’t named right away. It was actually months before we had names other than Baby 1 and Baby 2. Both sides of my parents’ families offered many rhyming twin names like Mark and Clark or Brad and Chad. My parents couldn’t stand the idea of naming us rhyming names, even if it was cute while we were little. My dad decided that he wanted our names to be able to be shortened to only three letters so they’ll always be easy for people to remember. This gave my parents a little rest from the family until they actually started coming up with names. My parents thought for a while and eventually threatened to name us Obadiah and Jebadiah, Obe and Jeb. Their families backed off at the risk of having us be named the two worst possible names ever. My parents decided to name us Benjamin and Samuel, Ben and Sam, now the seventeenth most popular twin name set. I don’t remember much from the first house we lived in. I remember playing with little HotWheels and Matchbox cars on the hardwood floors in the dining room and only perking up to run to the balcony to see my mom’s car coming up the hill. I would run around the house and then go answer the door for her. I remember being mesmerized by the TV, sitting in front of it for hours. My parents bought lots of Sing-aLong movies for us to watch and most of my time was consumed watching such classics as Wee-Sing Train. I also watched a lot of television shows like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, The Weird Al Show, Aaaaaaah! Real Monsters, and other Nickelodeon classics. My strongest memory is a birthday party I once had there. It was a puppet show done by our friend Joanne. It was about a lion that lived in a cave all by himself, ruling the jungle. Other animals would often try to come and talk to him or trick him out of his cage and in return he would always eat them. In the end, he came upon a well and he saw his reflection in it. He thought it was rebel lion trying to take his kingliness from him, so he attacked it and fell into the well. I don’t remember whether he lived and walked away with an important lesson about leadership or if he died. I hope he lived.

I remember always being told not to play around our big glass dining room table because it could break. I also remember always playing around at the base of the glass table. One day, I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I broke the big glass table. I’m sure Ben and I were playing a game and we were running around and I either knocked it over or I was crawling around on top of it when it fell. Either way, it fell and shattered into pieces. Mom came and scooped us up and told us it was okay, but I could tell there was a hint of anger in her voice. Dad yelled at us when he got home that night. I think that my favorite memory of that house was eating watermelon with my Dad. He was told by my mom not to let us eat it because the doctor warned her that we may be allergic to it, but he bought some and sliced it up anyway. He taught us all kinds of things about eating watermelon: not eating the husk around the outside and how to spit out the seeds to avoid a watermelon growing inside our bellies. I thought it would be cool to have a watermelon growing in me, so I swallowed most of my seeds. Afterwards, I fretted about it a lot and images of being bloated and then exploding because of the watermelon. My dad put some newspaper up on the other side of the room and challenged us to a seed-spitting contest; whoever spit their seeds the farthest would win. Ben won, closely followed by my Dad. I had spit them almost as far, but not close enough to be considered close to my Dad. My little brother Dan’s seeds were the closest to us because he was too young to really spit and they dribbled out of his mouth and mostly ended up right at his feet. We had a lot of fun and helped him clean up the mess. He told us not to tell our mom that we were eating watermelon because he could get in trouble. She found out, however, when my little brother broke out into hives. She didn’t get mad though. She just told him never to give Dan watermelon again. Watermelon became my favorite food and Dan grew out of his allergy. The day we moved into the new house was a day I thought I’d always have in my mind, but now that I try to recall it, I hardly remember. I can, though, recall a man giving my dad the keys to the house before joining a woman and two kids in a car right outside of the house. I thought that my dad was making them leave so that we could live in their house. I felt bad about living there for months. We brought Dan’s playpen in first and set it up in the living room so that he had something to do. Dad was most

fascinated by the large wood doors that opened up the front room to the dining room. He had my mom stand on the other side of the room with Ben. Then he closed the door on them and I started crying because I didn’t know where they had gone. I tried to open the door but I couldn’t quite get it to move and I thought they had disappeared forever. My dad calmed me down and opened the door to reveal them behind it. Ben and I bounded up the stairs in the main hallway to go claim our rooms, even though it was decided for us that we would share a room while Dan got a nursery for himself. When we got to the top of the stairs, standing in the hallway was a woman in a white wedding dress, hooked around her arm was a tall man wearing a black tuxedo and a top hat. We ran right back downstairs screaming “Daddy! Mommy! There are people upstairs! There are people in the house!” My parents, confused, followed up to the top of the steps; the people were gone. We insisted that they were upstairs somewhere and searched through all of the rooms, but they were never found. Until I was six years old, I had an imaginary friend named Linda. She lived and slept in the quest room in the old servants’ quarter. I made a bed for her every night and set her a place at the table. My parents always asked how she was and if she needed anything. When I was four year old, I didn’t set a plate on the table for Linda. My mom asked me if Linda was coming for dinner that night. I looked at her quizzically and said “No, Mom. Linda moved to Colorado,” and it was there she stayed for two years. At that point my parents were preparing to tear down the servant’s quarters and put in a master bathroom. I told them that they couldn’t because Linda was coming for a visit the next week with her new husband Dave. They stayed for a week before going back home to Colorado where they probably reside to this day. The only other memory I have from before I was five was when I got a splinter. I got one in the wood in my house and it went in really deep. Prior, my mom would take a pair of tweezers and try to squeeze it out and it was really painful. So I hid the splinter from her and hoped that eventually it would just come out on its own. For days I could see it under my skin and then one day, I shut a book on my hand and it hurt a lot. I looked down at my hand and the edge of the wood was now poking out. So I reached down and, using my nails, pulled out the splinter. I learned that no matter what, splinters were painful.

The Linden Years I think my greatest accomplishments during my Linden Years were becoming friends with Alexandru and Alex. Alexandru was from Romania, he had moved to the United States and Pittsburgh when he was four. He lived in a small apartment with his mom and dad. He’s the kid that I miss the most and wish that I had kept in touch with.

We were quick to become friends, as we had all the same interests except for his love of Digimon. After Pokémon, there was no more room in my brain for pointless card games based off TV shows. At lunchtime, it would basically be the two of us eating lunch, usually mauling over new ideas for Egyptian curses. By the end of our years we had many curses written in that book that we would often use on people to scare them. At recess, we would walk down the sloped driveway to the playground and run past it and the asphalt court to the hill at the very edge of the school. Here we hunted for odd looking leaves and traveled up into the trees. We pretended we were gathering ingredients for a witch’s brew. Sometimes the other kids would help us out, humoring our bizarre minds and us. At the time, we were all about things Egyptian. When the Mummy came out, I went to his apartment once a week and we watched it together before going to the back to play tag. He moved away the summer before our fifth grade year and he left me a note for 2,000 Leu (worth about $5). It’s a poor substitute for a real friend. Alex was a strange kid. He had tight curls and had a learning disability. He was the only kid in the entire school with a leaning disability and he was almost as good of friends with me as Alexandru. We were only together at school, but we had good times. His parents were both brilliant scientists who came to the school and showed us all kids of cool experiments every once in a while. Despite the fact that I was envious of him for this, many kids just used it as an excuse to make fun of him further. Alex started sitting with Alexandru and I at lunch and playing with us at recess during second grade. We continued to play our usual games, but also added new ones in which we pretended we were vampires and we would open our jackets like wings and fly around the playground. Every once in a while, we would swoop down and attack an innocent classmate and pretend to suck their blood. I fell out of touch with him after promotion. There was one other person that I remember vividly from my years at Linden: Abby. She started to attend Linden Academy when I was in fourth grade; she was in second. She moved into the house a block away from my house, the one with the huge yard that included a small hill. She rode my bus to school and she sat next to me mostly because I was the only one from the bus stop that didn’t have a seat partner.

We started talking and at first it was about nothing. Just a few chitchats about where she was from, her home life, ect. Over time we started to talk about more and more and I started going over to their house to play on the hill. Then one day our relationship changed. We were on the bus and the topic got around to Harry Potter. I told her I was a magician. At first she thought that I meant a trick magician but I told her I was one like Harry Potter. At first she didn’t believe me, but I would talk on and on about the different subcultures of wizardry and the techniques and moves that you did to enact great bursts of power. I told her that people with normal vision couldn’t see the magic work. She started to believe that I really was a magician and started asking questions, mostly about if she could be a magician as well. Alexandru and my curse book became a book of spells that I taught her. I would bring Happy Crack, a combination of sugar and Kool-Aid, on the bus with me and told her that if she had some magic in her, the flavor would change each day. Surprisingly, it actually did taste a little different everyday. She would have dreams about me hovering outside her window or breezing past or seeing a flash of blue, what I told her she would see when magic was being performed nearby. She fell deeply into the story. It was one of the first times that I convinced somebody wholeheartedly with a really bad lie. After only a year at Linden, her mother got pregnant with twins and they had to move to a bigger house. This house turned out to be in the suburbs. We visited her family out there only once, after the twins were born, and she told me that she told some of her new friends that she was a witch. I hope they didn’t think she was too crazy. I gave her a necklace that I said would hold in all her power so that she could live a normal life if she wanted to. I haven’t seen her again, but I hope she’s doing okay. Fifth grade went by in a breeze even though by then all of my friends seemed to have moved away. I was looking forward to going to a new school, Rogers CAPA Middle School, a school where only two of my Linden classmates were going. I was going to start anew there. I was going to start a whole new personality, a better one. If it hadn’t been for the rough Linden years, I might not have made that decision and been a completely different person now.


You Think It’s for the Children? Through the fog of stale air and mesh, I hear their laughter. It’s a crucial sound, a sound that can be harvested. I take that laughter and sow it into the greedy ground. Soon it will blossom into blooming cash. You think it’s for the children?

The theme song generations remember? The toys? The furniture? The house wares? It’s not for the children; it’s for my wallet, my penthouse, my pool, my chauffer, I put up with children for over 2,000 episodes, and at least a dozen movies. You see my face at every toy store across America. I’m mocked by the older kids, but they once gave me my money. Sure it wasn’t always for money. It was for the educational value. Just the kids and me on a schoolhouse set. And then came the playground, and the tree, and the tree house, and the puppet co-stars. New kids came on and off the show, grown up and replaced. I was on top of the world, head to head against Sesame Street and Power Rangers. Battling costume to costume in the underground world of children’s television. And all this money was pouring in. My salary raised and I admit I got a bit crazy. I loved it. The emotional feeling of a check for a hundreds of thousands of dollars, the rushed feeling of seeing your face on every wall, on every shelf, on your bed. And then they came. My eyes clouded when I saw him marching. Raining on my parade. Spongebob.

The name clung to my tongue as I tried to fling it off. Spongebob and his fun-loving friend Patrick. He stole them away. It was Spongebob and his followers. Dora the Explorer, the Fairy Odd Parents, Jimmy Neutron, the Nickelodeon names flooded into my mind. Then the music wave kicked in, the Wiggles and those I don’t care to remember. Nobody cares any more for the live children, the costumes, the studio sets, the puppets. Everybody wants music, animation, and muppets. But don’t worry, I will be back, and they’ll regret they ever walked over the name of Barney.

Morning The shower’s water sputters and spits out a Roman bath. The water shields the inside air with stiff steam.

The noise it creates is loud and envelopes your thoughts. But the kitchen whistles. It’s unnatural, the whistling, I don’t know how it came to be, or where it is from but it broadcasts from the kitchen. When the bath has dried up and curled into fetal ball, I make my way slowly down the steps. They creak with each step, screaming as a childhood tattler, of my descent. I look back to the Kitchen. It’s dark with hiding shadows everywhere. I slowly move, the computer stalking my moves. My fingers tremble as I reach out for the switch to expose the intrusion. The light flashes and snaps my eyes closed. Forcing the light back I glare around the room. The whistling stopped.

The Proposal Do not mistake my stillness for fear of your words. I am more likely to prove them wrong than to let them tremor through my bones. I am merely still in attempt to fade into the background to escape from the situation in general. I pictured this going a lot differently.

I am attempting to string my veins into the complex roots under the ground. I am trying to twist my insides until they are nonexistent. I am trying to disappear before your eyes into the ground of my origins. I picture you running away scared, not knowing what to make of what just happened. You witnessed me being sucked into the ground. You question why I am standing so still not answering your simple question. I do not know what to say to you but the simple truth that may break you. I picture you shattering where you kneel, your jeans crumbling further into the dirt under the pressure of your broken torso. Above you in your kneeling form, I feel like I can forget you exist. Have you disappear into the woods around us. I picture you changing into a rabbit and scurrying off as if an enemy is near. and for all I know, there is one. I can tell by the look of your face that you feel stupid. You thought that almost 12 months was enough time. But you were wrong. You regret ever speaking the words and I knew that every “I love you” that I let you speak was going to come back to haunt me one day. I pictured you hurt for only a few days. Not a lifetime. Now what am I supposed to do? Say the one word that you want me to say, and think about how life could have been different if I hadn’t or say the one word that I know I should say and profusely apologize and make excuses and then find some other way home since it was your car that got us here. I never pictured us as you did; with a home and kids and our own microwave. I know I pictured this working out differently.

But one thing you cannot do is mistake my stillness for fear of your words.

By the Waterfall She sits while the mist sprays her face, a thin mask of protection. The rock is vibrating against her stomach while she sprawls out against it. She watches the water ungracefully cascade, lazily swinging her feet in the air.

In her hands, she twists a LEGO into new shapes. Flinging it suddenly, she sees what it is. In reality, she twists a hunk of red clay and stones. Her childhood dreams are shatters. She lifts herself up and lands on her back. Desperately, she stretches her fingers grasping the twirling air instead of the basket she longs for. The picnic basket hides just out of reach, taunting her as the wind reaches down to flap the napkins surrounding her treasure. She glimpses the metal bowl and the pack of strawberries. still snuggled inside, but now subject to the air’s torment. A burst of energy shoots through her, she flips over, clawing at the stone underneath, fighting despite the wind tearing at her hair. She reaches the basket, fingers clenched tight, and pulls it toward her chest to keep it warm, cradling it in her arms like a young mother would. She crosses her legs and peers inside; her beauties are still safe. She turns her back to the wind. tears open the package of strawberries and offers it to the mist of the falls. They accept her offer graciously and coat the berries. She smiles and pulls the plastic off of the metal bowl. Inside is a nest of brownie batter for the strawberries. Carefully, she lays the berries in the center. A spoon is extracted from deeper in the basket; the instrument of intertwinement of batter and berry and to spoon the brown nectar into her mouth. The textures and flavors weave around her taste buds and dance with them into ecstasy. She rolls the rough spots of the brownie against the roof of her mouth as a wave of the tang of strawberry bursts down her throat. She swallows the whole thing and lets her body fill with its presence until it explodes outward and coats the forest with the paradoxical definition of poetry. The atmosphere whispered in her ear, “There’s poetry between us, the water and the trees, the open air and you.”

The falls thundered of a sense of purity between the animals and the rain that began to fall. Droplets start to fall from the sky, tiny drumbeats against the surface of the pond, spreading circles of consequences like the butterfly’s wing. She laughs, filling the area with amplified excitement. Dancing briefly beforehand, she runs into the cover of the leaves casting a gentle green glow as the birds hide in cover. The scent of rain fills copiously in every nook.

Dreaming After “Insomniac” by Sylvia Plath The night sky is only a sort of carbon paper, luminous, with the much-gazed dots of stars shining away the monsters, closet by closet— a savior light, like a flashlight beneath the pillow. Under the eyes of the stars and the moon’s grin, Teddy comforts his human boy, letting dreams fill his great, never-ending imagination in all directions.

Over and over the old, familiar road of dreams, creativity ignites – the dazzling designs of squares and swirls, fresh with ideas, cartoon faces of puppet felt, constantly animated and joyful. Ponds full of frogs make him laugh. Boy’s forehead is smooth as a weathered rock, but emotions flicker erratically under his eyelids. Teddy is immune to tricks: accidental, hurtful, playful – But how they lit the face of the sleeping human! Those sugary substances that won him over leave him peacefully in dreamland for a while, with the sweet, blessed, unforgettable Teddy. The syrupy substances are depleted but ever-present. Their chaotic adrenaline does him no good. Boy is full of colorful memories, each shimmer bringing peace. But only those of hyperactive actions seem to shine effervescently on the dewy mists of his past. Boy lives without fear in the uncapped world of dreams, the closed slits of his eyes rest easy with the soft welcoming presence of Teddy.

Daymare You find yourself in a forest, Leaves dewy with acidic tears That drip down to a fungi nest. Unknown insects hiding in the brush, Teeming with everything that you fear. Lift your foot, destroy them with one crush. Branches twist and weave, the mind has no rest.

Lost, the exit is nowhere near. You wandered for hours, north, east, and west. Your sense of direction has turned to mush. A trip and scene of beauty, now a mere Trap. The world collapses with a crash. You stumble upon a dirt road and survive the test Of fate. You close your eyes and start to hear Real life. The dream is over, and you let hope gush.

Watermelons A single drop, a bead of water, slipping down the side of the sink, melts perfectly into the smashed remnants of a fruitful meal, prepared just minutes before it came. Slam! like a door squished shut. Loud. Wet. It wasn’t your fault! No one blames you, but you feel raw. Like you should have known. A mere fact about them you didn’t know. An allergy. You hadn’t heard the tale.

It’s a funny story, said and done, one you could have known if you hadn’t just met a couple weeks ago. Now, they lie in a hospital bed with nothing but a moan. All you have now is that drop, that bead of water, that single teal tear.

Friday Midnights Synapses are snapping. Your lips are smacking. And I don’t want to hear it. Ectoplasmic explosions cause us To gravitate to the TV. Ass to cushion, we’re pushing Down on the Cheetos and three

Remotes long lost. Drilling them Down in the subculture couch Where lemon drops canoodle with popcorn. Music is blaring through the thin walls The bass moving some vase That my girl bought at a yard sale. It falls and cracks, Pieces scampering to the far corners of the room She looks languidly at the spot Then looks at me, and I roll my eyes. Synapses are snapping. Your lips are smacking. And I don’t want to hear it. Words force through your teeth, The waves barraging my eardrums, And I can’t block it out. I get up and walk away, Your fingers catapulting accusations my way And there’s no way I can dodge them. Out in the hallway, the world is right. We’re back to prostitutes and drugs deals, Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. Back to the rich dominating the poor. Out here, the world is still whole, No matter how decomposed it’s become. Synapses are snapping Your lips are smacking And I don’t want to hear it. We may be rocking now, babe, But we’re rocking towards a waterfall.

Anemia Glitz  
Anemia Glitz  

by Sam Pyles