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Animorphers 2.0.

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Wed Aug 30, 2017 1:54 am
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Lefty says...


It was late afternoon by the time Mr. Jay turned off the main highway and onto a winding dirt road that led deep into the forest. The sun was big and bright, casting a golden glow over the bare trees and causing the thin layer of snow on the ground to sparkle.

"Why is Aspen Kids Center all the way out here?" Just as Jared said this, he caught sight of the tall, barbed-wired fence. "And why does it have such a secure fence?"

"Any security you see here is for your own protection," Mr. Jay said calmly. "Some kids that come here are runaways; kids who lived on the streets and didn't want to be taken to an orphanage. But we have to bring them in because it's just not safe for them to be alone in the dangerous city." Mr. Jay turned to look at Jared. "We put Aspen Kids Center a few miles away from the freeway so that, if someone did try to run away, they wouldn't be in danger of being hit by a car. And the gate, well, there are animals in these woods and we don't want any of you to get harmed."

Jared nodded. That all made sense. He'd just never been at an orphanage that cared that much about their safety before. Maybe they would take precautions against fires, too.

They pulled up to the front of a building. A bright sign made up of three purple triangles lit the front, glowing down on the wooden floors inside.

Jay led him up the steps and opened the glass door for him. Inside was an enthusiastic receptionist. She didn't have that dead look in her eyes like most people who worked in orphanages did. Maybe she was new, or maybe this really was a better place. There would be no reason for the job to beat them down if every case they came across had a happy ending.

"You must be Jared!" she said happily. "Welcome to A.K.C.. I'm so glad we were able to bring you here. Great things are in your future."

Jared smiled a little. The future wasn't something he thought about much. He didn't have the luxury. Not when his future was always the same as his present.

"Why don't you help the boy get cleaned up?" Mr. Jay suggested. "He smells like smoke and river water."

The kind lady led him down a bright hallway, with warm wooden floors and bright blue walls. Cartoon animal murals were painted on the walls every so often, and every door they passed was painted a different color.

"Do you like animals, Jared?" she asked.


"Which one is your favorite?"

"Bears are cool," he told her.

She turned to look over her shoulder. "I'll put in a good word for you," she said with a wink.

Finally, she stopped at a blue door that said "boys room".

"This is you!" she said. "There are towels and soap inside. If you need anything, I'll be right out here. Oh, and what's your favorite color?"

"Green," he said amusedly.

She winked at him again. "You got it." Then she hurried down the hall. Jared turned and went into the bathroom. It was huge, with blue and white checkered tiles. The towels were as soft as a teddy bear, and the water was actually hot. Not lukewarm, but actually hot enough to fog up the mirrors. Jared had heard that hot water could do that.

When Jared went into the changing room, a green teeshirt and plaid green pajama pants were waiting for him, folded neatly on bench. So that's why she wanted to know my favorite color, he thought. Maybe she asked about bears because she's going to get me a stuff animal, too.


Jared shuffled down the hall after the lady, his new pajama pants curling under his heals. They were a bit too long, but that was normal. He'd hoped he would grow into them soon.

She opened a door and inside was a bedroom. Wooden desk, flat screen tv, a single bed with a green blanket neatly pressed and tucked in to the edges. A blue and white striped rug carpeted most of the wooden floor, and his jacket had already been hung in his closet.

"So, what do you think?" she asked.

Jared sat down on his bed and bounced a few times. A smile spread across his face. "I could get used to this." He flopped back on the bed and sprawled out.

"Going to bed already? But the sun's not even down." A man's voice said. Jared sat up to see Mr. Jay standing in the doorway. "Are you hungry, Jared?"


"We had a group of kids around your age come in yesterday," Mr. Jay said. "They're all eating dinner in the dining hall if you'd like to join them."

"If I join them, do I have to change out of my pajamas?" Jared asked.

Mr. Jay chuckled. "I won't tell if you won't."


As Jared walked into the dining hall, the first thing he saw were two kids sitting at the table in the middle of the room.

"I'm telling you! If we go down this hall, then make a right, there's a door at the end of that hall that leads to the outside!" a girl exclaimed in a hushed tone, drawing her finger across the table, between the lines of pencils they'd positioned to make up blueprints.

"Alex, I'm telling you, we haven't even been in that area."

"Yes we have. We passed it on our way here yesterday. I've got the whole place mapped out in here." She tapped her finger against her temple.

"How can you have the whole place mapped out? We've been here a day," the boy said. "But say we did pass that hallway. Do you know if that door is locked? Or has an alarm?"

"It... probably doesn't have an alarm. Stop being so cynical, Finn."

"There's a difference between cynical and smart, Alex."

Mr. Jay walked up behind Jared and cleared his throat, intentionally loud.

Alex and Finn's hands flew across their table, scattering the pencils and sending half of them onto the ground.

Mr. Jay led Jared into the room, towards their table. When the got there, Jay looked down at a napkin that had the same layout scribbled down in pen. He took it off the table and blew his nose into it. "Thanks! You know, I was just looking for a tissue. Glad you had a napkin left over." He smiled at them as he threw the wadded up napkin into the trashcan. The kids slumped against their chairs.

"This is Jared," he said, putting his hands on Jared's shoulders. "He's new here and I expect you'll give him a kind welcome."

"Yeah, whatever," Finn said, pouting with his arms crossed over his chest.

Jared took a look around the room. A small girl with dark skin and colorful strips in her hair sat nearby, tying straw wrappers into her hair. She seemed uninterested in them, but after watching her for a couple of minutes, it was easy for Jared to see that she was listening to every word that was said--she just didn't want to show it.

A couple tables over were three more kids; a boy with curly blonde hair and two girls, both seemingly a little older than the boy.

Jared decided to sit with Alex and Finn. He had questions that only they could answer.

"You guys are the runaways Mr. Jay was talking about, aren't you?" he asked them, sliding in next to Finn.

Alex leaned in closer. "What do you mean by runaways?"

"You know, kids that would rather live on the streets than be in an orphanage."

"Well, that's true. But they didn't find us on the streets," she said.

"This time," Finn added.

"Why would you want to run away?" Jared asked, baffled. Who would choose the cold streets and moldy food over the safety of an orphanage?

"Freedom," Alex said, shaking her head as though it was obvious. "No one to tell us what to do. I could add ten more things on to that list, but those are reason enough."

"I can tell you that homelessness isn't as freeing and great as you seem to think it is," Jared told them sincerely. It had been five years since he was taken to the orphanage and he could still remember how it felt for the wind to sweep right through his skin and settle in his bones as he tried to sleep in an alley with nothing but a thin blanket and the distant trashcan fire to warm him.

Alex glared him in the eye. "And I can tell you that if you don't see my side of things now, you're never going to."

Jared knew she was right. And in that moment, he also realized that Alex and him were two very different people, and would probably never get along. They'd probably only be grouped together for a couple of days, anyway.

A tray with a burger and fries slid in front of him. Jared grabbed the edges of the tray and stood up. "All I know is that this place is different. And it might feel like you need to run because that's what you've always done, but this could be a chance for all of us to start over, and you don't want to throw that away."
Hear me out, there's so much more to life than what you're feeling now. Someday you'll look back on all these days, and all this pain is gonna be invisible. - Hunter Hayes

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Mon Sep 04, 2017 1:22 am
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Europa says...


"Maybe we can just dig under the fence."

I shook my head. "The guards'll see us."

Finn shook his head. "What kind of home has security this tight anyway?"

"it's weird." I agreed, flopping over on my back, bouncing a little on the bed. "I swear they made your mattress softer than mine."

Finn shrugged. "I don't think it matters if you won't sleep in your own room."

"Good point." I rolled over onto my stomach and propped my chin up on my arms. "We could just go out the window one night."

"Jay put us on the second story for a reason, Alex."

"That smart little son of a--"


"Sorry. You got any suggestions?"

Finn shrugged a little. "I don't think we should try to escape until we know the building better"

"But I do know it!"

"I know, I know. But...why don't we maybe get a more concrete idea. Just to make sure."

I frowned. "You don't believe me."

Finn paused for a moment, searching for something to say. "well...not really. You did get lost on the way up here."

"I was testing you. Making sure you know this place as well as me!"

"I think I do, actually. Seeing as I had to come find you when you didn't show up and bring you back."

I stuck my tongue out at him. "Fine. If it makes you feel better, we'll stay and scout it out."

Finn nodded. "It does."

"But the sooner we get out here, the better."

"Right. And in the meantime"

I smirked. "Let's do some sneaking."

We slid off the bed and quietly opened the door. It swung out smmoth and silent. Back at the other Home, our door had squeaked so loudly it was wonder it never woke Ms. Atkins. Even when she moves us into the room right next to her. Finn and I slipped out the door and down the hall. At the exact same moment, Jay rounded the corner. we froze, ready to run.

"Well hello there, you two!" Jay greeted us cheerily. "Where are you headed?"

"Nowhere." I forced myself to relax and folded my arms. "Just walking."

Jay smiled. "Mind if I join you? A casual walk is just the relaxation I've been needing."

"Yes, actually we do." Finn replied. We turned and began to walk the other way. Jay followed us anyway. I started to wonder how much trouble I'd get in if I socked him.

"You might not believe it now," Jay started off "but we're really here to help you."

"The only thing you want to help is your salary." I snapped.

Jay sighed. "Maybe if you'd just give it a chance, you'll start liking it."


"It isn't as if you're going anywhere in the meantime."

I looked up at him. "Is that a challenge?"

Jay took a small, steadying breath. "No, just a very accurate guess. Now. If you really want to be alone, that's alright with me. But keep in mind you two," He looked us sternly in the eyes. "We're keeping a particularly careful eye on you." He gave us a little smile. "Enjoy your walk."
And with that, he turned and strolled back down the hall.

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Tue Sep 05, 2017 6:54 pm
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Gravity says...

Penny Walsh

Penny Walsh lay in her small bed, curled up underneath her belle princess covers. Her small brown curls were mussed and she slept peacefully with her thumb in her mouth. The little girl was dreaming pleasant dreams of mermaids and castles, never once stirring.

As Penny slept, her mother walked over to the window, tripping on a toy in the process. “Damn,” she swore, but Penny couldn’t hear her. Mrs. Walsh picked up the toys on the floor and threw them in the toy chest, but It wasn’t until she opened the blinds that Penny began rubbing the sleep out of her eyes with her small fists, finally sitting up.

Good morning, sweetheart, Penny’s mother signed.

I want to sleep more, came Penny’s response.

No, Mrs. Walsh replied, gesturing for Penny to get out of bed, Now.

With a huff, she finally stood up and made her bed, her pink nightgown trailing on the floor. She automatically walked to where her mother was standing and took the pile of clothes from the top of her dresser. Penny then walked into the bathroom and, like a good little girl, brushed her teeth and got dressed for the day.

I’m hungry, Penny signed, and her mother took her into the kitchen to eat. Today was Friday, and Mrs. Walsh always made pancakes for Penny on Fridays. Today was no exception, and after a quick Thank you, Mommy, she drowned the food on her plate with syrup.

Mrs. Walsh began cleaning up the kitchen, washing out pans and measuring cups and mixing bowls, with the different options running through her head. She’d paid for Penny to receive the cochlear implant when she was 3 years old, which, according to the doctor, should guarantee Penny the chance to live a normal life. However, Penny was one in a million, part of the 5% of children ages 0-3 for whom the cochlear implant wouldn’t work.

Penny’s mother sighed, turned with her back to her daughter. She worried about her ability to keep her daughter safe since she was deaf and had trouble communicating, particularly as a single mother. Penny’s audiologist had told her about a new experimental treatment. It could take up to a year, but they would use Penny’s DNA to repair the dysfunctional cells in her brain and ears to either make it possible for Penny to hear normally, or for her to be able to at least use the cochlear. It was low risk. The chances of Penny being harmed by it were very slim, at least that’s what the doctor and social worker had told Mrs. Walsh.

Mrs. Walsh cringed at the thought of having to be away from her daughter for a year. But if it meant Penny could live a normal life, wasn’t it worth a try?

Sighing once more, Mrs. Walsh raised the corners of her mouth into a smile, and turned around.

Finished? she signed. Penny nodded and handed over her plate, jumping down from her stool to take her hello kitty bookbag.

No, we aren’t going to school today,

Penny tilted her head, flopping her mop of curls to one side. Why not, Mommy?

We have to go somewhere else, okay?

Penny agreed reluctantly and reached up for her mother. Mrs. Walsh balanced Penny on her hip, and walked outside to get Penny situated in the car. They had a doctor’s appointment, but Mrs. Walsh didn’t want to tell her daughter that. Penny hated the doctor. They were always hearing, and even though they signed, they made Penny uncomfortable.

As soon as they arrived at the doctor’s office, Penny was not happy. She crossed her arms over her chest and vigorously shook her head, making her curls bounce. She was not going in.

Penny Marie Walsh Mrs. Walsh signed, You are going to do what I say, young lady. Do you understand me?

Penny pouted, her lower lip jutting out. Mrs. Walsh ignored her discontent and circled to the back of the mini van, unbuckling Penny’s car seat. She cooperated, but clearly wasn’t happy about having to see the doctor.

“Hello Ms. Penny,” said the nurse at the desk, simultaneously signing. Penny kept her arms crossed, still pouting.

“She doesn’t seem very happy to be here,” the nurse said, laughing as she handed Mrs. Walsh a clipboard.

“No, but it’s for her own good,” Mrs. Walsh replied, furrowing her brow.

“Ms. Penny, if you’re nice for the doctor then I’m sure he’ll give you a sticker or a lollipop after you’re done,” the nurse said, once again signing for Penny’s benefit.

Penny seemed to perk up at this, her big brown eyes staring at the nurse.

“I’ll call you when the doctor’s ready,” the nurse said to Penny’s Mom, and gestured for them to sit in the waiting room.

After Mrs. Walsh sat in one of the stiff, plastic chairs, Penny sat in her lap and wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck. She was always very affectionate with her mom, seeking out comfort even when they had to go places like the doctor’s office. Once again, Mrs. Walsh couldn’t help but think about the inevitable separation if she decided to give the doctor permission to do the experimental treatment. It was a big decision, and today’s appointment was to discuss those options. As much as she hated to admit it, Penny’s mother knew she was leaning towards the treatment. She truly wanted what was best for her daughter, and although she acknowledged how welcoming and wholesome the deaf community could be, if she had the option to take away this particular struggle for Penny, she would do it.

When Mrs. Walsh and Penny emerged from the doctor an hour later, she knew what had to be done. Penny was happily licking at her lollipop, and had seemed content to ignore everything the doctor and her mom were saying. Although, had she known her mother was planning on separating from her for a year, she definitely wouldn’t have been quite so happy.

A week later, Mrs. Walsh had a bag packed full of Penny’s clothing, a few of her favorite storybooks, the stuffed giraffe she always slept with, and some of Penny’s more beloved toys. Penny was wearing her favorite princess dress, little heels and all, clomping into the kitchen.

Where are we going? she signed, pointing to the backpack slung over Mrs. Walsh’s shoulder and the suitcase at her feet.

Mrs. Walsh swallowed back a sob, knowing she needed to keep it together. We’re going on a vacation! she responded, trying to look as happy as possible.

Penny noticed the strained smile on her mother’s face, but brushed it off. Mommy was always worried about something, and if Penny didn’t have to go to school, then she wasn’t going to ask any questions. So she allowed her mother to buckle her into her car seat, put her bags in the trunk, and leave the house.

Penny’s patience ran out when they reached the doctor’s office. Again.

You said we were going on vacation! Penny signed wildly, her little face contorted in a pout. Not only had Mommy taken her to the doctor’s office, but she lied!

We are, sweetie, I just have to pick up some papers from the nice doctor, Mrs. Walsh explained. Penny didn’t believe her, but had no choice but to go along with it.

Penny knew something was wrong when Mrs. Walsh took her bags out of the trunk and carried them into the building with her.

“Is that everything?” The doctor asked Mrs. Walsh, about half an hour later. She nodded, quickly wiping a tear from the corner of her eye as Jay, the social worker, handed over paperwork.
“What’s this?” she asked.

“Consent for treatment,” Jay explained, “It also says that if Penny somehow becomes seriously injured during the treatment, we will be responsible for any of her treatments as well as other financial compensation.”

“But the chances of that happening are very low right?” Mrs. Walsh asked, suddenly feeling uneasy. Penny was attempting to watch the exchange, but the adults were speaking too quickly for her to follow the conversation.

“Yes. The chances of the treatment failing are less than 5%, but we have a team of very experienced medical professionals and researches, all dedicated to Penny’s wellbeing. Even if the treatment itself fails, the probability of Penny experiencing any kind of brain damage or severe injury is about 1%. Should anything go wrong, you will be notified immediately,” the doctor explained.

Mrs. Walsh took a deep breath, “Okay,” and she took the paperwork, and signed her name on the dotted line, not realizing that what she was signing gave the government custody over her daughter, and that she was surrendering her rights as a parent forever.

Penny was crying at this point, tears rolling down the soft skin of her cheeks. She could sense that something was horribly amiss, and she didn’t understand why nobody was explaining anything to her.

I love you, Mrs. Walsh signed, trying desperately not to cry. I love you more than anything, my sweet daughter. I’ll see you in a few months, my darling.

What’s going on? Penny was sobbing at this point. Big guttural sobs that shook her chest. I thought we were going on vacation.

Mommy has to go now, explained Mrs. Walsh.

NO! Penny clung to her mother’s leg, gripping her skirt.

“It’s time for her to go now,” the doctor said, and Jay reached down to pick Penny up.

Penny opened her mouth and screamed, an ear splitting scream. She clawed and kicked at Jay, but he held her firm. Penny’s arms were stretched out, reaching for her mom. Her screams were almost primal, a natural instinct despite the fact that she couldn’t hear.

Mrs. Walsh lost it then, unable to compose herself. She was crying too, realizing that this was a terrible mistake.

“Give me back my daughter. Tear up the paperwork. She’s okay the way she is, she’ll be fine,” yelled Mrs. Walsh, her chest heaving.

“I’m sorry ma’am, we can’t do that. You just signed a form giving us both medical and parental rights over your daughter. Or didn’t you read the paperwork?” The Doctor shouted back with a hint of smugness in his voice, fighting to be heard over Penny's screams. He and Jay were halfway through another door, one previously unnoticed, and slammed it in Mrs. Walsh’s face just as she lunged for her daughter.

Mrs. Walsh was beating down the door, ignoring the pain in her fists, screaming swear words at the Doctor and at Jay. She was fighting for what felt like hours, her voice becoming hoarse. She didn't notice that the door she entered through was opening, nor did she notice the doctor with the syringe. She did, however, notice the sharp pain in her neck as the doctor injected her.

“Give me back my daughter,” she whispered, sinking to the ground, the floor rushing to her face before everything went black.
And the heart is hard to translate
It has a language of its own
It talks in tongues and quiet sighs,
And prayers and proclamations

-Florence + The Machine (All This and Heaven Too)

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Sun Sep 17, 2017 1:55 am
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Europa says...


An exhausting interrogation later, I was shoved into another cell. This one was larger than the ones at the police station and completely made of metal. The door clanged shut loudly, and I winced at the sudden noise.
Everyone who wasn't still being questioned was gathered in a loose pack, no one sitting too far away from each other. I made my way toward Emma, who was sitting near the back of the group. Before I could get much farther, Dan came to sit beside her. She leaned against him, and he put and arm around her shoulders.
I took an uncertain step back.

Cole was sitting against the wall, seeming oddly detatched from everyone else. His eyes leveled with mine almost immediately. I stepped around Neon, who was sitting crosslegged in the center of the floor, and slid down to sit next to Cole. I offered him a small smile, which he returned.

"Hey." I greeted him softly. The silence of the room made the whisper sound louder that it was. Self-consciousness prodded ad the back of my mind.

"Hey." He answered.

I tried to think of something else to say, but my mind was suddenly blank.

Cole fixed me with a piercing stare. "You look exhausted."

For some reason the observation struck me as amusing. I laughed a little. "I am exhausted." I looked up at him. In the darkness, the only thing I could see clearly were his eyes. They seemed somehow duller. Missing the mischievous light they usually carried. "Aren't you?"

Cole leaned back against the wall, closing his eyes briefly so he looked like a shadow. "I think we all are."

I nodded. After all that had happened to us, I counted it as a miracle we'd all made it out alive. I let my gaze wander above me. The ceiling was regularly set with vents. There were no windows. A tiny finger of cold fear traced its way down my spine. I shivered.

"This is really bad."

Cole gave me a look.

"Okay, okay." I conceded "Not exactly breaking news at this point. But..." The full weight of our situation crashed down on me again, leaving me breathless. "This isn't what I wanted."

Cole was silent. I looked away, but the fluttering sensation in the pit of my stomach told me his attention was still on me. I felt him slide closer to me. He sighed, and I could feel the warmth of his breath on the back of my neck.

"I know." The gentleness in his voice made me look up at him again. His eyes shone with something I couldn't identify. Not the same mysterious light as last night. It was a tangle of emotions too tightly wound for either of us to unravel.
He sighed a little. His eyes flicked away from mine. "Riley..." He trailed off, shooting me a quick glance before looking away again. His eyes held a frantic, almost hunted look in them, and yet they still appeared gentle. I scooted closer.

"Cole, is something wrong?"

"No! No, I'm just not..." He shook his head. His knuckles brushed my fingers. Once again his gaze locked with mine. He turned his head to face me. I could feel something else inside me stir. Something that sparked against my chest and sped up my heart rate.

He began again. "Listen..."

Neon's voice abruptly crashed through the silence. "Someone's coming!"

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Sun Sep 17, 2017 5:15 pm
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Lefty says...


I look up just as a parade of agents come down the hall and unlock the door to our cell. Two of them enter, while the others wait by the door, and head straight for me. Probably because I'm closest to the door.

"On your feet."

"Where are you taking me?"

"Don't make me ask again," the agent barks.

I give him a small shake of my head. He doesn't have to answer my question--I know exactly where he's taking me. With that, he grabs onto the fabric of my teeshirt and yanks me to my feet with surprising ease.

Riley grabs my hand and looks at me with a sudden urgency. "Cole."

The normal thing to say would be Everything's gonna be fine. Or It's okay. Don't worry about me. But when I open my mouth, nothing comes out. I can't have the last thing I say to her be a lie. There's nothing to say, because there's no way out of this. Not this time.

So I just look into her eyes with as much sincerity as I can, and tell her everything I'll never be able to say aloud. Hopefully, that's enough.

The agents lead me out of the cell. As I pass Layla, she abruptly stands, but a stern look from the agent closest to her and his hand tightly gripping the gun at his waist sends her sitting back down. What was she thinking she was going to do? Take on four armed government agents with her bare hands? I can't say I blame her, though. I would've done the same thing.

They lead me down the hall. I look behind me to see another set of agents leading Layla out of the cell, then Riley, both being taken the other direction. We turn the corner, cutting them off from view, then they lead me into an examination room and make me sit in the chair bolted to the floor in the middle.

The second I'm in the chair, they strap down my wrists and ankles. A far too familiar feeling. The last time I was strapped down, I fell asleep and woke up in a whole new world--new life. And now that's going to happen all over again, only this time, I'm not going to wake up.

A doctor comes into the room, complete with white coat and blue gloves, and the agents leave us alone. The doctor doesn't even look at me.

"Why are you doing this?" I ask. He doesn't answer at first. "Hey, are you deaf?! I said, why are you doing this?"

Finally he looks at me. "Because you are too dangerous to have out in the world."

"Why not kill us from the moment Jay Sterling found us, then? Why all the games?"

"If things followed a certain path, there was a chance that we would've been able to let you live. But that time has passed."

I shake my head at him. "You would've let us live if we'd joined your army. Isn't that right?"

The doctor smiles. "Something like that." He reaches into a cabinet and pulls out a small clear bottle and a syringe.

I pull against the restraints on my hands. The edge of the velcro digs into my skin and I realize the right side feels looser than the other, so I focus on that hand, twisting and turning my wrist. Digging deeper and deeper, slipping more and more until the velcro cuts in so much that it draws blood.

The doctor turns around with the full syringe just as I slip my hand free. I grab the syringe and break off the needle.

"Security!" he yells.

I get my second wrist free, then go for my ankles just as two agents burst into the room and slam me back against the chair. They refasten the velcro around my wrists, so tightly that it cuts off circulation.

I fight the restraints, but it's no use this time. This is it.

"I hope whatever they're offering you or paying you or promising you is worth it," I say through gritted teeth. "Killing a bunch of innocent kids."

"Will somebody shut him up?" the doctor whines.

"We didn't ask for this, you know," I continue as one of the agents pulls a rag out of his pocket. "I bet you don't even care what we've done or haven't done. Isn't that right? Just following orders? Sounds like a coward to m--" The agent pulls the rag tight against my mouth, cutting me off.

The doctor turns around with a second syringe and heads for me again. I fight to break free, but the agents hold me still.

The tip of the needle slides under my skin.

The doctor's thumb goes on the plunger.

Then the door bursts open and in three silenced shots, the agents and the doctor fall to the ground. A woman with black hair comes into the room. She wears camouflage cargo pants, military boots and a black shirt with a bulletproof vest strapped overtop. She holsters her gun, then heads straight for me. Yanks the needle out of my arm and throws it on the ground, causing the glass syringe to shatter into a million pieces.

She yanks the gag away from my mouth, then pulls something that looks like an epipen out of her pocket and sticks it into my arm.

I suck in a breath. "What is that?"

"It's an antidote to what they gave you that keeps you from morphing. You should be able to morph again in a couple of minutes," she says quickly.

"Who are you?"

"We'll have time for explanations later, but I'm not with F.U.S.E.. You can call me Natalie."

"My name is Col--"

"I know who you are. Come on. We don't have much time." She undoes my restraints and yanks me up out of my chair.

We hurry out into the hall. "Where is everyone else?" I ask.

"My comrades are working on getting them out. We got everyone who was still in the interrogation rooms, but there's exam rooms scattered all over the east wing. We're still trying to locate everyone who was taken to a room like yours. But for now, we need to get you out. Come on, this way." She heads to the right, away from where I came from and towards the west wing. I hear gunshots faintly to the left. I don't budge.

"Cole, what's wrong?"

I shake my head at her. "I'm sorry. I've gotta find her." I sprint down the hall, towards the east wing. I run past the cell where we'd been kept. It's empty now. They must have escorted everyone to different exam rooms. I turn a corner, then another, and another. Chaos fills the halls, with F.U.S.E. agents fighting against the Others.

I pass several exam rooms, all of which are empty, or seem to have already be broken into. I catch a glimpse of Emma turning at the end of a hall with one of the Others, being led to safety. Then another glimpse of Layla being led into a stairwell. I realize Riley could have already been rescued and I would have no way of knowing it. But I can't leave until I know for sure.

Finally, I pass an exam room and skid to a halt when I see Riley through the window. A doctor is walking toward her chair with the syringe. My heart lurches. I grab the handle of the door--it's locked.

I look around and spot a F.U.S.E. agent sprawled on the floor, his machine gun just out of his grasp. I grab it, run back to the window, and jam the butt of the gun into the glass. It shatters. I jump through the opening to be met with the surprised expressions of Riley, the doctor and an agent.

The agent hoists his gun. I sucker punch him in the face and goes out like a light. The doctor lunges for me with the syringe. I grab his hand and force the needle back at him and push him backwards until he slams into the counters behind him. With the impact, the needle goes into his chest and the plunger goes down. He falls to the ground.

Riley stares at the doctor for a second, then looks up at me with wide eyes. "Cole, what's going on? There were gunshots, then they locked the door and... how did you escape?"

I undo the velcro from her wrists and ankles and pull her onto her feet.

"It's not the Japanese is it?" she continues. "The gun doesn't look like something the Japanese have had in the past. Speaking of that... where did you get a gun?"

"Riley, stop talking." I take her face in my hands and kiss her.

When I pull away, she looks up at me with wide eyes, then her cheeks blush to a bright pink and a grin finds its way onto her face. "I should stop talking more often," she says.

I smirk at her. "Riley. There's something I--"



"Cole, duck!" I bend down and look over my shoulder to see the guard getting back to his feet and grabbing his gun. Riley grabs the stool beside her and swings it over my head, knocking the gun out of his hands. Then she throws it at him and he stumbles backwards into the wall.

"We've gotta get out of here." I jump out the window, then help Riley through. We start down the hall only to be cut off by more F.U.S.E. agents. We stop cold, then a machine gun goes off behind them and takes them all out in one arc.

Natalie stands behind them, smoke rising off the gun in her hands. "Now can we go?"

I nod, take Riley's hand and we hurry after Natalie. She leads us through a maze of corridors, until finally we come to a service hatch that leads to the surface via a ladder.

When I get to the top, I force the hatch open and am met with an icy burst of fresh air. The ground is covered in a layer of frost.

Once we're all out, Natalie leads us into the woods, where a man is waiting, also in camouflage. He pulls a green tarp off of a mound next to him to reveal two motorcycles.

"Cole's with me. We're going around the canyon. Joseph, take Riley and head for the overpass. We'll meet at our randevu point at 1600 hours." Natalie and Joseph each get on a bike. He. pulls up next to Riley.

"Wait," Riley says.

"Riley, we have to go," Joseph urges.

"I know. Just hang on a second." Riley walks up to me. "What was it that you wanted to tell me?"

"Cole, we have to go, now!" Natalie says.

I turn to her and yell, "Can I please just have a second to tell Riley that I love her?!"

"You... what?" Riley says.

I turn back to Riley and let out a breath. "That's what I've been trying to tell you. I love you. I've loved you from the moment you pushed me in the lake at Michael's lake house."

Riley stares at me for a moment, surprised. Her mouth falls open a little, and her cheeks are rosy from the cold. Finally, she wraps her arms around me in a hug and says, "I love you, too."

I let out a breath. Then Riley pulls away. "See you at the randevu point?"

"You bet." I give her a smile, then climb on the back of the motorcycle. Riley climbs on the back of Joseph's, and we take off in opposite directions.
Hear me out, there's so much more to life than what you're feeling now. Someday you'll look back on all these days, and all this pain is gonna be invisible. - Hunter Hayes

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Gravity says...


After Penny was yanked from her mother, the doctor gave her a shot of something, and she blacked out.

When she awoke, she was strapped to a chair and the doctor who stole her was in front of her. Penny immediately began to struggle against the bonds of the hard, metal chair, her little legs kicking with all the strength she had in her body.

Calm Down, the doctor signed to her. Penny began to scream for help, but the doctor acted as if he couldn't even hear her.

Penny gritted her teeth, "Mommy," she said. She hated speaking, it was uncomfortable for her and very difficult, but the doctor ignored her once again. Big, wet tears began to roll down Penny's cheeks as she screamed at the doctor, unable to tell him with her hands to let her go, or to ask what he was doing to her.

The Doctor injected Penny with blue liquid, and eventually Penny's limbs grew heavy. She couldn't move, but she could see the computer monitors above her head, data racing across the screens. It all looked like gibberish to her, a jumble of words and numbers that she didn't recognize or understand.

"Is she ready to morph yet?" asked another scientist. Penny's eyes widened. She couldn't hear enough to understand what he was saying, her ears were still extremely muffled, but there were sounds that reached her brain. Having never heard sound before, Penny was terrified. Even if she could hear sound, she wouldn't be able to understand what the doctors were saying. Even though she signed English, and could speak English, and she could even read lips, the sounds would be unfamiliar to her, as if they were in a totally different language.

"No," the doctor replied, "Her genes are in the middle of phasing, and she'll be ready in just a few days."

"What animal will she become?" the scientist asked.

"She'll be a mouse."

The scientist laughed, "A mouse? What good will that do us?"

"Her body is too small to morph into anything larger. Phasing into an animal even as large as a dog would result in trauma on her growing bones. Her bones are softer and more fragile than the others. Besides, mice are great for getting places we can't. It is rather an advantageous animal."

"Whatever you say," the scientist said, "But you better not be wasting money or resources on this stupid little child," and then he exited the room.

The doctor walked over to Penny to see her big brown eyes wide with terror, her face unable to move itself.

"You'll see soon enough, little one," he said, "This will mean a better life for all parties involved," and then he injected some more of the blue liquid. Just enough for Penny to slip into a deep, dreamless sleep.
And the heart is hard to translate
It has a language of its own
It talks in tongues and quiet sighs,
And prayers and proclamations

-Florence + The Machine (All This and Heaven Too)

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Lefty says...



Tiny snowflakes spiral down from the sky and land on the fogged windows of the black hummer I ride in. Someone named Max is driving, winding down the snowy mountain roads that take us further and further from F.U.S.E. and its agents.

"Where is everyone else?" I ask from the back seat.

"It's safer if we all go separate ways. If we just caravanned all of you to our base, F.U.S.E. would have caught on pretty quickly. By taking different cars, different routes and laying low for a little while, it'll throw them off and make it harder for them to track where you all went," Max says, keeping his eyes on the road. "My comrades and I were each ordered to get two of you out, then head to our designated locations. For me, that ended up being you and Jinx."

I look over at Jinx sitting beside me, his eyes tired and his body stiff from the cold. Max has told me very little about who he is and who he works with, but they did rescue us and have treated us well thus far. If they wanted to kill us, they wouldn't have rescued us, after all. I don't know what to think, but for now, I'm tired, hungry and just glad to be out of that place. I feel like I can breathe again.

"It's getting bad out there," Jinx says, squinting out the fogged windows. Giant white flakes are starting to cover the road now.

Max looks up in the rearview mirror. "Aww, hell." I turn to see a truck riding our bumper. "Is someone following us?"

"Nah, just a jerk that doesn't know how to drive," Max assures me.

The truck honks.

"Go around!" Max says. The truck honks a couple more times, then rudely swerves around us and speeds on ahead. Max watches him as he goes. "Asshole."

He turns to look at the road again, and he sees it just as I do--a tree has fallen into the road from the snow. He slams on his breaks and tries to swerve around it, but there's too much ice. The wheels slip, and we spin wildly across the road.

I grab onto the handle for support, feeling like the air has been sucked out of the car. We hit a light pole, denting the passenger side door, and the impact sends us spinning back the other way. Finally, we run off backwards into the woods and come to a stop when the back bumper of the hummer slams into a tree.

My heart pounds. I look down at my hand to see it wrapped around Jinx's. I pull it away, hoping he didn't notice.

"You kids okay?" Max asks, turning back to look at us.

We both nod.

"Good," he says, relieved. He tries the gas, but the wheels just spin, digging deeper and deeper into the snow. He sighs and turns back to us. "We're stuck."

"There's no way you're going to get this hummer back up that incline," Jinx tells him.

Max runs a hand through his hair. "Okay, okay." He pulls out his phone--a giant military one--and looks at the screen. "No reception. Perfect."

"What now?" I ask.

"Now..." Max hesitates. "Now you two are going to stay put and lock the doors while I walk five miles to the nearest gas station and call for some help."

"It's freezing out there," I point out.

Max shrugs and pulls his jacket zipper up to his neck. "Good thing I've got a coat, then." He gets out of the car, then turns back and says, "Remember, stay put unless it's life or death. Got it?" We nod, then he slams the door closed and heads back up the slope.

~ ~ ~


Jinx and I dig through the boxes of stuff in the back of the hummer, looking for food, blankets, anything that might help our situation. I come up with a thin blanket, Jinx comes up with a bottle of whiskey.

"Well then," Jinx says, a bit surprised at what he found. He shrugs. "I've heard it's supposed to warm you up?"

I stare at it for a moment, then I pull it out of his hands and unscrew the cap.

"What are you doing?" Jinx asks.

"In the last twenty-four hours I have been chased, pinned down, arrested, seen the look of devastation in my parents eyes, been interrogated, threatened, locked in a cell, had someone try to kill me and been in a car accident. I'm cold and tired. Normally, I wouldn't. But these are extenuating circumstances." I pull the lid off and take a drink.

We're silent for a while, then Jinx says, "You know, we never really got to talk after the whole... tiger thing happened at my apartment."

"Are you going to tell me that you still don't believe me?"

"What? No." Jinx shakes his head. "I just... I never got to thank you for what you did."

"You would have done the same for me," I say.

"No, I probably would have run for the hills before I even saw you turn back," he admits.

I tilt my head at him. "You? The big, buff football player everyone stays away from?"

Jinx raises an eyebrow. "Buff?"

"I uh..." I break eye contact with him, hoping the warmth on my cheeks is disguised by the cold. "I just mean that I never would have pegged you for a scaredy cat."

"Ha ha."

I take another drink. "Well, I don't believe it. You seemed pretty brave to me at that lake house."

He nods. "Yeah, maybe."

~ ~ ~


The sun starts to dip behind the mountains. There hasn't been any sign of Max, or anyone else for that matter. It's probably been a couple of hours by now. The windshields are now covered in white, closing us off from the world around us.

I sit crosslegged now, facing Jinx with the blanket spread across my legs. He has the bottle now, the liquid line slowly getting lower as the depth of snow slowly grows deeper.

"Twenty questions: Life Edition. Go," I say, starting to feel a bit looser.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

"A biologist," I say.

"What would you want to be if your parents weren't an influence?"

I hesitate, caught a little off guard by his question. "An artist. My turn. And I get two questions, because you asked two."

"Go for it."

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

"Happy," he says.

"Where's your mom?" I ask gingerly.

He lets out a breath. "California, with her new husband and my two little half-siblings."

"That's rough."

"My turn," he says. "Why are you so tough?"

I give him a look. "Why do you have gray eyes?"

He gives me a look back. "You know what I mean."

I hesitate. "I was bullied a lot as a kid. In middle school, I became friends with one of the popular girls. I changed my hair, my clothes, the way I acted..." I say. "I convinced myself that was what I wanted--that I wouldn't be bullied if I was in the 'in crowd.' But it was all fake, and the only reason I wasn't bullied anymore was because they were the bullies. They locked kids in lockers, taped signs on their backs... that kind of stuff."

"So what happened?" he asks.

"I hated every minute of it, but I'd convinced myself that I didn't... until they preyed on this little blonde girl with these big black-rimmed glasses. They tried to get me to handcuff her to the bike racks outside of school in the pouring rain, and I refused. So they cuffed me to the racks right next to her. It was the best decision I'd made all year." A small smile spreads across my face. "The girl told me her name was Charlotte. We were out there for an hour before a teacher found us. We both got pneumonia, but it was totally worth it."

"Respect," Jinx says, taking another sip.

"After that," I continue, "I realized that I didn't have anything to prove to anyone. It was the push I needed to figure out who I was... who I am. So I dumped my friends and my stupid clothes and took up kickboxing. I stopped caring what people thought and decided I wasn't going to let people pick on my anymore."

I let out a long breath, then pull the bottle out of Jinx's hands and take a drink. "All right, I never told anyone that so now it's your turn. Tell me a secret."

"My dad is about to lose our apartment," he says. "It's a hole in the wall in a crappy part of town, he works full time--sometimes more--and we still can't make payments."

I think about what he said for awhile. "That really sucks. I'm so sorry, Jinx." He nods. I take another drink, then hand the bottle back over to him.

~ ~ ~


The woods are pitch black. Three inches of snow has piled on the hood of the car, but we've since used the wipers to knock the snow off of the glass. It's safer if we can see who's coming. At least four hours have passed now, and still no sign of Max. The half-empty bottle of whiskey sits on the seat between us.

"Truth or dare?" I ask, swaying a little.


"Who was your first crush?"

"Susie Jenkins," he says.

I drunkenly laugh. "No way! I can't believe, of all people..."

"She was cute back in Junior High, okay? She'd just gotten new glasses, her hair was long back then..."

"You know she's a hippie stoner now, right?' I say.

Jinx gives me a look. "You said first crush, not current crush."

"Okay, who's your current crush?" I ask.

The light is dim and my vision is a little blurry, but I swear I see him get really nervous all of the sudden. "He-hey now, you asked your question. Now it's my turn. Truth or dare?" he asks, slurring a little.


"What is the weirdest thing you've ever done?' he asks.

"Easy. Woke up naked under the bleachers in the gym after turning into a fox and running loose down the halls during third period."

Jinx drunkenly laughs.

"Truth or dare," I ask.

"Dare," Jinx says.

I think for moment, then I look up and meet his eyes with mine. "Kiss me."

He stares back at me, surprised. Then he leans forward and presses his lips against mine. Warming shivers run down my spine, and I suddenly feel calmer than I've been in weeks. For just a moment, everything feels okay.

I kiss him back harder, the alcohol in my system turning off the little voice in the back of my mind that would normally hold me back. In this moment, I don't care. Nothing else matters. We grow more intense, and the longer we continue, the more it feels like I can't get enough.

And that's when the flashlight comes through the windshield, slicing through the pitch black of night and shines right into our eyes. We break apart. I try to catch my breath.

A moment later, Max opens the drivers door. "Hey, I'm back. You guys holding up okay?"

I swallow and take a side glance at Jinx before nodding and fighting back a smile. "Yep. We're fine."

Max narrows his eyes at us. "I've got a car up on the road. We need to get going if we plan to get to headquarters by sunrise. Lets go."

~ ~ ~


We make it to our destination a little after sunrise. After sleeping most of the night, I've slept off whatever effects the whiskey had on me, and familiar sense of caution and reason has returned to me. When I try to think back on the last twelve hours, it's all a blur. But I remember kissing Jinx. Why did I kiss Jinx? Now? With everything? Am I insane?

Max starts leading us into an old abandoned factory out in the middle of nowhere. He yanks open a giant, rolling warehouse door. It squeaks on its hinges. He heads inside.

Jinx is about to follow him, but then I grab his arm to turn him around. "Jinx... About last night and... the dare..."

"We were drunk. It was snowing. You don't have to explain," he says.

"Okay." I let out a breath. "Then, we're on the same page."

"Same page," he agrees.

"And we should just forget it ever happened," I say.

"I'll never mention it again."

I nod. "Good."


A long silence passes between us.

"Well, we should probably head in," I say.


I follow Max into the warehouse. Jinx hesitates for a moment and I can feel his eyes on me. Then he follows me inside.
Hear me out, there's so much more to life than what you're feeling now. Someday you'll look back on all these days, and all this pain is gonna be invisible. - Hunter Hayes

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Steggy says...


I remember fall being the loveliest time of the year. Leaves would fall. The weather was perfect for wearing sweaters and cuddling love ones by fireplaces. I had realized my birthday was coming up in one of the fall months (I think November or September). I can't remember the last time I celebrated my birthday because, since the experiment, my memories have been washed. Well, most, anyway.
School started up again. My friends from before were gone; probably off doing their own thing. I didn't mind, though. I was passing most of my classes and continued to pas them until the trip had come. I didn't mind it. I got along with nearly everyone in all of them and most of my teachers loved me. There are some times where I got restless in class and goof off but it was all in good fun. I believed it was me being a jerk and causing a ruckus. I also believed that if I caused a ruckus, my old friends would come back with open arms and the clan would be back together.

Of course, life doesn't work that way.

While I was the star quarterback for the high school, I didn't believe in trying hard to improve others (even though, while it does sound contradicting, I did do it from time to time). It was an ongoing battle inside my head about being popular and being me. My click left me and I was alone. I believed no one felt what I felt and continued to think this. I was just an endless loop of playing football game after football game. There probably wasn't anyone in the world who could relate and I lived with that.

Until I met Charlotte Penn.

One day, I decided to stay behind in the library. I guess there was a book I needed and the class I was taking needed that book exactly. The librarian was kind enough to stay behind, scanning the book. Her calm green eyes held many secrets, much like the library did. I thanked her for the book and went off to find somewhere to sit. Luckily since football was canceled for reasons I don't remember, I decided to just study and relax. Possibly finish some late homework from some of my classes. I took out some white earbuds and stuck them in my ear, pressing whatever song was on my playlist from the last time I listened to music. I was too focused to notice a girl with blonde hair and wide-rimmed glasses come into the library, carrying an armful of books and sitting directly in my view if I had looked up.
I continued to silence, struggling with a certain math problem or something. I don't remember. At one point, I sneezed and this caused me to get a slight look at Charlotte but it was too blurry for me to actually see her. Quietly, I got up and blew my nose. It was then that I saw Charlotte in her glory.

The setting fall sun created a perfect spotlight which has then caused her hair to seemingly glow. I guess I started for too long before she caught me staring and we were in an awkward stare off. I blinked away first and walked back to my seat. I hadn't realized that stare could lead to something. Something that could break me out of my depressed soul and into a brighter one. I continued to go to the library every day afterschool with the hopes of meeting that girl again. You see, while I did have the audacity to show off my talents to girls and smooth talk my way into their hearts, this girl seemed different. I felt fluttery and loose like a popped balloon. All of the air was sucked into the air vents around the library. I decided to just keep my head down and continued working on my stuff. At times, I would look up at peek at the girl but quickly look back down as if nothing had happened.

This carried on for a week or two after school. And I still didn't know her name or even if she went to this school. I tried to build up the courage to ask her for at least her name but it seemed to go downwards. At work, my manager would find me looking up tips instead of actually working. I began to think of possibly ways and made up a plan, which I had hoped I would follow to the tee. I even set up a date to where I would ask her name and whatnot. My nervousness was sending me to overthink things that I shouldn't overthink, adding onto my depressive state at school.

I had slipped her a note during the only class we had together, telling her to meet me by the history books. I hoped she read it and not thrown it away. School had ended shortly after the bell had rung. Students crammed passed each other in a vigorous attempt to leave the hellhole. I stayed behind, walking slowly to the library. The librarian was out for some meeting and was not here for most of the day. And since the library was open and big, I knew my plan was going to go right. I paused by the history books and picked one. I don't remember what it was about or what the title was but it included a war and several others that followed afterwards because of a jerk wearing fancy clothing.

"Excuse me but are you Michael Anthony?" a small voice asked from in front of me. Blinking from the book world and into the real world, I looked up at where the voice was coming from. Of course, it was the girl and the one I'd seemed to magically like. She seemed timid and gripped the note in her hand. Her eyes were darting down from the note and coming shortly to meet my gaze. I didn't really expect for her to be jittery (though deep down, I was).

"And you must be Charlottee Penn? It's a pleasure to meet you." I said, smiling brightly. I could feel and see her nervousness radiating off of her. I quickly put the book back and offered to just sit down and talk. We talked for what seemed like hours before she had to leave. I felt sad by this fact but I was glad that I had got to know her a little bit.

Fall was also the season when football was beginning which meant I couldn't see Charlotte as much as I could have. I felt a deep regret that me and Charlotte would only see each other in the one class we had together. It wasn't enough and I understood that my schedule shouldn't revolve around a pretty girl like herself. I should've stopped thinking about her because as the years went on, I put Charlotte in the back of my head. I continued to do my classes and I didn't see Charlotte again.

Fall is also the season of heartbreak and I felt the pain immensely.
You are like a blacksmith's hammer, you always forge people's happiness until the coal heating up the forge turns to ash. Then you just refuel it and start over. -Persistence (2015)

You have so much potential and love bursting in you. -Omnom

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Lefty says...


Jared's mom always wanted better for him. She never meant for them to live on the streets, or for most of the meals he ate to be soup from the soup kitchens around the city.

That's why she put him in an orphanage. So that he could have a chance. So that, maybe one day, he could be somebody and do great things.

Jared still remembered that last day he had with her. The way she tucked his jacket tighter around him and brushed the falling snow off of his shoulders to keep him dry. He remembered looking into her eyes and seeing himself reflect back at him in the tears in her eyes.

He understood why she did it, but it didn't make it any easier. Sometimes the best thing for you is the hardest. But she didn't put him in an orphanage just because it was warm--she believed with all her heart that he would be adopted before he knew it. "A family is going to come in and see how amazing you are and snatch you right up," she'd assured him.

It had been years since that day. All she wanted was for Jared to have a different life. And ever since Mr. Jay found him in that police station, he believed for the first time in years that that might actually be possible.


As Mr. Jay led him down the hallway, Jared had a bounce in his step. New place, new people, new possibilities. The walls were painted his favorite color, a vibrant green. Jared liked this place. It had a nice feel.

"So, how long do you think I'm going to be in this place?" Jared asked. He tried to walk exactly like Jay, following his strides perfectly and in time, though his legs were shorter and he fell short each time.

"Oh, not too long. We're looking into a couple different placement options for you. The next couple days will tell us a lot," Jay assured him. "But don't worry. We'll find the perfect place for you and, in the mean time, you are perfectly safe here."

"I wasn't worried," Jared told him. "I was just curious." Jared considered Jay's words more carefully. You are perfectly safe here. A chill ran down his spine. Why wouldn't he be?

Jared shook his head, clearing the thoughts from his mind. It was probably nothing. A lot of kids that came in here were probably scared--Mr. Jay was probably just used to reassuring them.

"So, where are we going?" Jared asked, concentrating a little harder on following Mr. Jay's footfalls once again.

"Well, before we place you anywhere, we want to do a quick check up just to make sure you're healthy. After that fire and almost drowning in the river, it wouldn't hurt to take a look at you," Jay said.

Jared was led down a hallway he hadn't been down before, and taken into a room that Mr. Jay had to use a keycard to get into. A big sign on the door said Restricted Area. Jared swallowed down his growing anxiety and followed Mr. Jay into the room.

It was a big room, with no windows and bright lights. Dozens of dentist chairs were plugged into the walls and separated from each other by curtains hung from the ceilings.

"I'm seeing a dentist?" Jared asked.

Mr. Jay chuckled. "No, no, no. These chairs might look like dentist chairs, but they are much, much more." Mr. Jay led him into the first section. "These are called M.I.C.'s. Medical Information Chairs. Radio waves scan over your body that make you really sleepy, and while your asleep, the machine scans your body and makes sure you're healthy. Then when it's done, you'll wake right back up. No doctors, no shots. It'll be over before you know it."

Jared eyed the chair. "That doesn't sound so bad. But, I've never heard of them before."

"They are the latest in medical technology. They were just released to medical facilities last month. Want to give it a try?"

Jared shrugged. "I could go for a nap."

Mr. Jay smiled. "That a boy."

Jared had to pull a stool over to the chair so he was tall enough to climb into it. The chair seemed to swallow him up. It was clearly designed for adults. He wasn't even 5'5'' yet.

He laid back in the chair, the leather behind his head like a cushy pillow. This wasn't so bad. Could he take a nap in this chair everyday?

Mr. Jay went over to a computer console and typed on a keyboard. The machine seemed to come alive. A motor roared from somewhere deep in the chair. A slight breeze blew over Jared's face from a fan somewhere above him and a bright light started scanning over his body.

"How's that?" Mr. Jay asked him.

Jared nodded. "Fine."

"Good." Mr. Jay clicked a button on the keyboard. "Now, count backwards from ten."

He took in a deep breath. "Ten... Nine... Eight..." His eyelids became heavy. "Seven... Six.. Fi--" The world blurred out of focus, and Jared fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.


When Jared's vision swam back into focus, Mr. Jay stood before him.

"There he is," Mr. Jay said, even more chipper than usual. "How do you feel, Sport?"

Jared squinted at him, the room seeming to to spin a little.

"It's perfectly normal to feel a little uneasy. That should pass in a minute or two. Here..." Mr. Jay handed Jared a glass of water. He took it, though it took all the strength he had to hold it up. The dixie cup seemed to way a ton.

Mr. Jay turned away and scanned his eyes down the computer screen. "Everything looks normal for the most part. It appears you're a little dehydrated and a bit deficient in vitamin C... but that's nothing a glass or two of orange juice can't fix, right?"

"Right..." Jared set his cup down and scooted to the edge of the chair. He felt confused, but not about anything in particular. He knew he was only in the chair for ten minutes, but he felt like he should ask what day it was... or maybe what year. Could he really feel so weak from just ten minutes?

Jared tried to get to his feet, but his muscles turned to jello and he fell right down to his knees. Mr. Jay hurried over and pulled him back up. "Whoa... You okay there, Sport?"

"I..." Jared brushed his tongue against his teeth--it felt far too large for his mouth. "Is it..."

"It's normal for some patients to feel a bit weak afterwards. It just a side effect of the radio waves. Why don't I take you back to your room and you can get some rest?"

Jared nodded. Mr. Jay led him back to his room. The hallway felt three times longer than it had been on their way into the infirmary.


The hours ticked by slow. Jared slowly regained his strength and his tongue felt normal again. He ate his dinner in his room and felt like himself again, except for a shiver he couldn't seem to shake.

His eyes felt heavy as he looked over at his clock. 11PM. It was late, but he couldn't bring himself to sleep. Something was off about that chair, he decided. And he wanted to know what it was.

Jared kicked away the covers on his bed and jumped back to his feet. He slowly opened his door and took a peek down the hallway. No one was in sight. He let out a breath and quietly closed the door behind him.

He snuck down the hall, his white socks sliding on the polished tile. Just as he turned the corner, he ran right into someone's back. He stumbled away, surprised.

When they turned, he saw that it was Alex. She let out a breath. "Jesus, Jared. Will you look where you're going?" she hissed.

"Sorry," he said, scratching nervously at the back of his head. Finn appeared from the shadows behind her. "What are you two doing out so late?"

"What are you doing out so late?" she asked in return.

Jared hesitated. "Did you go into one of those chairs today?" They both nodded. "Is it just me, or was there something weird about them?"

"Weird would be an understatement," Alex said.

"I wanted to back to the infirmary and take a closer look," Jared admitted.

Finn patted him on the back. "There is hope for you yet. We were planning to do the same thing."

Jared shrugged off his hand. He didn't like getting involved with troublemakers like Alex and Finn. "Can we just go before someone catches us?"

Alex pointed at him. "Jared, your nose!"

Jared looked down to see a line of blood run down to his lips from his nose. He wiped it away with his sleeve. "Come on, we're wasting time." Trying to ignore it, he continued past them down the hall.

When they got to the door, it was locked with a keypad. But luckily for them, a doctor came out moments later. The kids hid in the shadows, and once the coast was clear, Finn caught the door just before it clicked. They snuck in and headed right for the first M.I.C. station. They began inspecting the chair.

"This looks pretty high-tech for a machine that checks your blood pressure," Alex said.

Jared wandered over to the computer console. The computer itself had a password, but the drawers below it were left unsecured. Jared pulled open the first one and began rifling through the papers. He came up with a yellow file with the name "Project Miles Eximius" scribbled in sharpie at the top.

He flipped it open to see a picture of the M.I.C., along with pictures of computer generated DNA strands. He scanned over it and his eyes landed on the words "Animal DNA" and "Nanobots". A picture of the Nanobots was directly next to it, displayed as a vial of blue liquid.

"Whoa, what do you think this is?" Finn said. Alex and Jared turned to see him standing before a drawer he'd opened, filled with the same blue vials as the picture.

Jared quickly looked back at the file and flipped to the next page. A list of teenagers pictures sprawled across it, complete with names, ages and locations. But he was barely able to acknowledge any of their faces before the door to the infirmary burst open.

Their heads shot up. Finn nonchalantly closed the drawer with his back. Jared quickly slipped the file back into the computer desk.

"What are you kids doing in here?" the guard barked. "This is a restricted area!"

The guard marched them back out into the hallway, making sure to close the door tightly behind him.

"We were looking for the bathroom," Alex tried. "I got lost and the door was open and..."

"Just keep walking." He wasn't buying any of it. The guard handed Jared off to another guard as he escorted Alex and Finn back to their room.

The guard didn't say anything to Jared. He just escorted him to his door with a firm grip on his arm and shoved him back inside. The guard's gaze lingered on Jared for a beat, a bit of concern showing behind his eyes. Then, he closed the door.

And it locked.

Jared swallowed hard. He wasn't sure what he'd found in the infirmary. All he knew was that something strange was going on. And he couldn't help but think back to his conversation with Mr. Jay earlier that day. You are perfectly safe here, he'd said. Jared had thought it was strange that Mr. Jay had felt the need to emphasize his safety. But now he was starting to get it. Because he didn't feel safe...

He didn't feel safe at all.
Hear me out, there's so much more to life than what you're feeling now. Someday you'll look back on all these days, and all this pain is gonna be invisible. - Hunter Hayes

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Rydia says...


Imani Azikiwe

Escaping seemed impossible. It's the kind of impossible you get when the rules were made up before you were born and the people who wrote them are in heaven so you can't even ask them what the rules are or why there had to be rules in the first place. The only way to win is to not play the game. But Alex and Finn didn't know that and I listened (but not too obviously) as they talked about their map, only for Mr. Jay to use it to blow his nose on. Maybe they shouldn't have drawn it on a napkin, but it was probably doomed the moment they brought it to the table. That wasn't how you hid super important special stuff like maps.

Then Mr. Jay introduced a new boy - Jared - who had soft, green eyes which swept the length of the table as he decided who he might want to be friends with. And that was interesting. None of the other kids seemed to care who was stuck here with them - they were either focused on where they had come from or where they were going next. But not Jared. He was here and here was where he wanted to be.

I tied a blue straw into my hair as the talk got really interesting. The kid Jared said a lot of sensible things and while I couldn't agree with him on this being the place to start over, I did agree that running away was stupid. Which was why I was running to. If the adults would only listen to me, this would all be very easy because they wanted to find me a home and I wanted the Orchard House to be my home. Didn't that mean we both wanted the same thing?

The kids started to disperse and I went back to my room to get my crayons and colouring book. I tore out a drawing of a rainbow crocodile - I'd already coloured him in - and flipped it over so I could draw on the back. I didn't know the area they'd been talking about exactly but I thought I understood the hallway well enough and I drew them a map. It wasn't their map but maybe just having a map made people like Alex and Finn feel better. And I wanted them to feel better. They were silly heads to always be running away but they were a part of Orchard House as much as I was.

Besides it didn't matter any more that their running away might make it harder for me because it was obvious this wasn't the right place to run away from. As much as I didn't want to miss so much story time, I was going to have to wait until they placed me with a family before escape would be a real option.

I folded the map up with the picture of the crocodile on the outside and then left my room and retraced my steps from yesterday. I only had to take a left and then go past two doors to get to Alex's room. I listened carefully at the door but heard nothing so I turned the handle and crept inside. It was definitely empty, which was probably for the best. I left the drawing on her bed and then turned around and walked right into one of the scientists. Busted.

"Oh hello there, Imani."

"Marnie," I said with a slightly long a to sound cute and a winning smile.

"Isn't this Alex's room?" the lady asked, bending down in that way adults do which they think makes them look more like children.

I nodded and pointed at the picture I'd left on the bed. The lady walked over and unfolded it and pretended to look carefully at it but really she didn't look at all.

"Oh, did you colour this? For Alex?" The lady asked and again I nodded. She smiled and put the crocodile back on the bed. "You came from the same place as her, didn't you."

This time I didn't nod but I smiled again since ladies like it when little girls smile and she seemed like a nice lady. It wasn't her fault that she didn't know how to make any of us happy.

"Well, I was looking for Alex to take her for a checkup, but why don't I take you instead? We want to help you find new homes as quick as possible so we want to make sure you're all in good health."

That was a lot of explaining. Adults normally never explained anything and if they told you a lot of things, it was usually because they were not telling you something else. But getting a new family quickly was exactly what I wanted so I held out my hand and let her lead me to a 'Restricted Area' where they had lots of bright machines. It wasn't a good room. I didn't want to go in or sit in the chair but Mr. Jay was in the room already, tugging a partition curtain closed behind him as he forced a smile.

"Did Lisa explain the tests to you, Imani?"

I shook my head, not sure if I wanted to know more or to cry and hope they didn't make me do it.

"You're going to sit in the chair for a few minutes and then have a little sleep," Mr. Jay continued in his best nice man voice. He hadn't bothered being nice on the drive over so it must mean he really wanted me to get in the chair. Which made me not want to. I looked to the lady, hoping to find an ally there but she gave me a small push toward Mr. Jay.

"I'm not going to sleep," I said in a firm voice but Mr. Jay laughed and patted the nearest chair.

"Well maybe you'll be able to stay awake. Nobody else has managed it yet, but I would't be surprised if you're the first. You seem like a very strong girl, Imani."

With that, Mr. Jay had won. He'd called me strong so now I couldn't try crying as a way to get out of it so I took a big breath, climbed up into the over-sized chair and decided that no matter what, I was not going to fall asleep.
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The light shines brightest in the darkest places.

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AstralHunter says...


After rereading the same paragraph for about the fifth time, I sighed and, moving the cute alarm clock out of the way, placed my book on the end table next to my bed. I didn't read enough to be considered a bookworm, but I often resorted to it if I had to pass the time - and that night, I was very bored.

I was still supposed to be recovering from the unusually tiring check-up from earlier in the day, but I felt fine after only a few hours. It's just... I couldn't focus on the book. I had too many things running through my mind to focus. I didn't think I would ever leave Merriman House before turning eighteen and no longer being the government's problem, yet here I was, in my own room in some fancy facility.

The best of all was that I had earned this all by myself. For years, the workers at the orphanage had told me to be polite and friendly, since that was apparently the best way to be adopted. "Be pleasant, obey your instructions, and perform well in school." It made sense, so that's what I did, year after year. Obviously, that turned out to be a lie, otherwise I'd have had a family of my own long ago already, but I decided it was still good advice to follow; if not to get adopted, then at least to make something of myself after graduating.

But in the end, the effort had paid off! When another social worker arrived at the orphanage about a week ago, I didn't pay much attention, since they were always coming and going, but never for me. And yet, that time, he was! Mr Sterling said I was being brought to where I am now because of my good behaviour. Sure, they also took some other girl whose name I didn't know, but we were two out of the entire orphanage. I didn't care much about the other orphans at the facility; Mr Sterling had probably been begged to take them away.

It felt surreal, finally being away from that place. The facility wasn't exactly what I had expected, but Mr Sterling said it wouldn't be long now before I was adopted. Even if he was lying, I had my own room, my own desk... my own space. It was almost too good to be true, but I guess I simply felt that way because the odds had never been in my favour before. Worrying wasn't going to do me any good, so why bother?

A moth fluttered against my bedlamp, startling me and breaking my train of thoughts. I shooed the bug away and caught sight of the little clock, its long and short hands crossed - 10:50 PM. Curfew would have been almost two hours ago. It was nice staying up until whatever time I liked, but being bored yet too preoccupied with my thoughts to focus on anything was a waste of time, so sleep was the best idea, even if I had slept more than enough earlier.

I flicked the lamp's power switch and rolled onto my side, facing the other wall. Sleep was in reality still a while away, since my mind was too active, but the complete darkness would help. I then realised using the bathroom might help too, so I rose and made for the door, the carpeted floor muffling my footsteps.

I wasn't expecting anyone to be right outside, so I was as surprised as the girl whose head I knocked with the door. She staggered back and held her hand to her head, glaring at me.

A boy appeared from behind the other side of the door. "Watch what you're doing!" he whispered angrily.

I almost laughed in incredulity. "Are you stupid? You two are the ones sneaking around. I just wanted-"

"Not so bloody loud!" the girl whispered. "Just shut up and shut the door behind you."

I frowned and lowered my voice. "I opened my door to leave my room."

"Then leave already! You're going to make us get caught."

I raised my eyebrow, not that they could see it. Sniffing, I stepped outside and pushed the door shut without turning the handle, causing the mechanism to jump audibly back into place. "Then you better get going."

The boy tugged on the girl's arm. "Alex, we have to go before anyone comes this way."

Alex pulled her arm free. "Are you going tell on us?"

"All you two have been doing since you got here is plot your escape. If you want to leave so badly, I'm not going to stand in your way. Just try to get lost somewhere else."

"Who says we're lost?"

"Alex!" the boy whispered nervously. "We don't have time for this!"

"If you're trying to find the exit, it's back the way you came."

"We're not trying to find the exit, genius! We're looking for the infirmary."

"That's also back the way you came. Just get out of here. I don't want you ruining my chances at this place by making the staff think I'm helping you."

She scoffed. "Like we need your help."

I rolled my eyes - again, without them being able to see it. "Yeah, because I totally didn't just point you in the right direction."

I didn't wait for another snide remark and instead headed down the corridor towards the bathrooms. I shook my head. It's amazing how those idiots considered themselves such skilled escapists, from what I'd heard of their conversations earlier. But if they wanted to spend the rest of their lives trying to run away, whatever. That was their business. I, on the other hand, would show these people that I was worth their time and effort. I would prove them right.
But the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
- Paul the Apostle

Spring has returned! Winter is over, and BrumalHunter is no more!

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TheSilverFox says...

Spoiler! :
So, uh, I didn't realize these had to be in first person point of view, so I corrected that in this post. I'm not used to first person POV, but I tried to best capture what Joshua's mind is like. That meant making a lot of corrections, so that he didn't have my extremely broad vocabulary, and it took longer than expected. The result is experimental, so tell me what you think, though I'm happy with it.


Way Up High

Throwing up on Mr. Jay after the test may have been a mistake. It was surprising how well he took it – and how happy he was in general – but he still brought a guard to walk me off back to my room. In about a half-hour’s time, the guard came with a glass of water and an antacid, and I dealt with those after he left. Then I stared up at the blue ceiling and focused on the whirling motion of the fan, the lamplight giving off a nice glow to my side as the minutes and hours crept by, getting rid of that weird and sick feeling that I had. That had been a weird check-up, but I'd decided earlier it was better to just listen to Mr. Jay and call it normal.

At that moment, I found it hard to hate my room. But Mike once playfully called me a “virtuoso of bitterness.” I didn’t really know what that meant, but I suspected it had to do with my deep-seated bitterness and sadness, in spite of being sprawled on my bed in some snug pajamas. Really, I didn’t know where he was. I worried if he was true or not. If he wasn’t, then odds are he was either at his parent’s house, shut up in a straightjacket and heading to the asylum, or dead and abandoned on a street somewhere – and I thought about all these possibilities more than I should have, and nearly cried a few times, before I remembered that there was another choice.

He wasn’t usually a liar, not even in one of his spells. If he said he had taken his meds, I had to believe him. But, how could he be right when he’d claimed to see all the crazy things that he saw? It was easier to think that he was wrong, and his mind was playing tricks on him again, because the alternative made me uncomfortable. This place was so fancy and scientific and new that it was unlike everything I had seen in my life. If anything weird was happening, it was happening here.

I looked at the clock. It glared at me through the darkness, and I couldn’t really read what it was saying, because I was tired and distracted, but I guessed it was telling me it was late. I yawned. There was nothing else to do. None of the other kids really talked to me, and I guess I was asking for that, because I didn’t much talk to them either. Without Mike, who was the only guy I could ever consider a dad, there wasn’t anyone to push me out of my hiding place and make me be more open and talk some. Since none of us were likely to stay long, I thought, what was the point? I’d let them group up and talk between each other, and laughed when I saw Scotsgirl fail for the millionth time (it still amazed me she thought she was clever). And then everybody had finished and had walked away and I had gone to my room and sat around until Mr. Jay had come and called me to head over for my check-up, and now here I was. Alone almost all the time, and alone now.

But, for some stupid reason, I could hear his voice in the back of my head. He told me I wasn’t going to go to sleep – even if I should – and maybe it would be calming just to go around and find someone to talk to. Maybe that would get myself out of my head, and let me rest. I groaned, got myself out of bed, and walked on the soft carpet to the door. Pulling on my slippers, I yanked the door open and looked down the hallways. Nobody. Well, duh, it’s too late for anyone to be up, I told myself, but he said that I was thinking of the other kids, and there was probably some scientist or guard or somebody around. I wasn’t that happy that he was being my dad now, and that he wasn’t there and it was really just me talking to myself, but he/I made sense.

It actually wasn’t that hard to find a guard in the darkness of those corridors. I turned a corner and there he was, dressed like some kind of a cop. He was shining a flashlight everywhere, and I thought I saw a gun in a holster at his side. I was uncomfortable, and wanted to walk away, but he pointed the flashlight at me. “What do you think you’re doing this late?” he barked at me.

“N-nothing,” I said, shivering and looking up at him with wide eyes (thanks, flashlight). Might as well tell the truth. “I couldn’t go to sleep and I didn’t want to stay in my room.”

He watched me for a little bit, in a suspicious way, and then lowered the flashlight. “…Fine. It’s just that all of you kids are running around and going where you shouldn’t be,” he said after spending a minute standing around awkwardly. “We caught three of you in the infirmary. They were messing around with one of the chairs. Some of them might have looked at the papers, but we’re not sure. Not, not that they’re important or anything. We just didn’t want them doing something stupid like tampering with them so they’d get adopted sooner. So, uh, don’t do that, because we’re keeping an eye out.”

“Ooookay,” I said, thinking that odds were that he wasn’t telling me something. I guessed one of the three was Scotsgirl, because that seemed like something a crazy person would do. And there was no way she would be smart enough to change papers, and the same probably applied for whoever else was nuts enough to join her. She was more interested in the running away part, and that was always sort-of a quicker solution. Then I remembered how weird I felt after sitting in one of those chairs. Mr. Jay said it was just normal side-effects that wouldn’t last – and they didn’t - but, the more I wondered, the more that I realized I couldn’t think of anything where throwing up was fine.

“Well, you better go back to your room, because it’s late and more people like me are going to bother you if they find you, and you don’t want that, do you?” said the guard, gesturing impatiently. I nodded, and said good night, and did as he said, thinking about that check-up room the whole time. They’d felt the same way as I had, and they’d headed off for the chairs. That guard’s explanation about the papers was also silly, since nobody looked anything more than unfed. If any of the other kids were sick, it was probably something that I hadn’t noticed, like cancer, and the kids would definitely not be here to edit anything. Everyone was likely healthy, and each of them knew that, so then they also wouldn’t edit anything. So that meant he was making something up, and that those papers told something else, something maybe a little stranger. Whatever it was, it was enough to put the whole facility all on edge. Suddenly, Mike sounded right, and I felt like that I just stumbled in on whatever it was he wanted me to stay away from.

Which meant that I didn’t have good sleep that night, even after I jumped back into bed, turned off the lamplight, and watched the fan keep spinning.
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.

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Europa says...


"I think we've made a lot of progress." I smiled over at Finn. He was walking beside me down the hall.

"Yeah." He agreed, smiling. "For starters, we learned what was actually behind that door."

I blushed. "How was I supposed know it was a supply closet?"

Finn chuckled and I shoved him.

"And lets not forget," I smirked "We've got this." I whipped the paper out of my pocket. On the front was a picture of an alligator colored like a rainbow. I flipped it over. Drawn over the coloring page-- which was some kind of cat I think.--was a map. A perfect copy of the one we'd drawn yesterday. Finn and I had labeled it, circling and crossing out exits. I tapped one of the only unmarked hallways. "Lets try this one next."

Finn nodded. I quickly folded up the paper and stuck in back in my pocket.

"those b--"

Finn gave me a look and I cut myself off

"Those you-know-whats don't stand a chance now!"

We headed down the hall, sometimes checking the map to see if we were still headed in the right direction. The path ended in a big door locked with a keypad. There were big black letters on the door that said 'Restricted Area'

"Oooh." I smiled. "That looks promising."

Finn frowned. "How will we know if we don't know what's inside?"

I turned my smile over to him. "I guess we'll just have to find out."

"Yeah, but there's still the keypad." Finn pointed out for the millionth time. "We don't have a card to get through"

"I can fix that easy." I leaned back on his pillows "Are you forgetting who we are?"

"Not authorized staff." He pointed out.

"Oh c'mon." I gave him a look. "You think I've never pick-pocteted before?"

At that very moment the door swung open. We looked up at the intruder together. It was a tall lady in a lab coat.

"There you two are!" She smiled cheerily. "I was sent to get you for a checkup."

I narrowed my eyes. Somehow all these people being so happy felt wrong. "Why?"

"Just to make sure your healthy." The lady answered quickly. "It'll be easier for you to be adopted that way."

I glared. "I don't want to be adopted."

The lady's smile quivered a little. "I'm sure you don't mean that--"

"I don't want to be adopted!" I snapped again. "I don't even want to be here!"
The lady sighed.

"Brian, a little help?"

From the hallway a bigger man ducked into the room, also wearing a lab coat. He grabbed me around the waist and lifted me over his shoulder.

"Hey!" I shouted, trying to wiggle my way out of his grip without much success.

Finn jumped up. "Alex!"

Brian carried me down the hallway and Finn came running after. I pounded againsted his back and tried to kick him in the stomach but my legs were too short. I kicked him in the face instead. The way he was holding me, I couldn't get at any place really damaging, so I satisfied myself with banging the side of my foot into his cheek. Then he stopped at the door marked 'Restricted'. Finn and I locked eyes.

"What's in there?" He demanded, making a convincing show of being nervous.

The only thing Brian said was "You'll see."

Finn gave me his "this is a bad idea" look. I gave him a look to show him I agreed. When grown-ups kept secrets, it wasn't usually good. Brian swiped his card over the keypad and the door slid open. He carried me in and Finn followed right behind. Once the door was shut he set me back down on the ground.
"This way."

We followed behind him to one of the many weird chairs set up in rows. Another doctor came out of one of the curtained-off rooms and smiled.

"You must be Alex and Finn." She was quiet for a minute, waiting for a reply. When we didn't give one she continued. "Thank you for bringing them over, Brian. Now Finn, if you'll just come in here with me, we can get started."

Finn and I glanced at each other. I saw the worry in his face. Real worry this time. I knew how he felt. Being away from Finn wasn't something I was comfortable with either.

"Could we maybe stay in a room together?" Finn suggested.

The lady shook her head. "I'm afraid that's not possible. Come along, now."

I took a deep breath and took Finn's hand. "Will you be alright?"

Finn nodded.

"Then you should go."

Finn hesitated for a split second, then pulled me into a quick hug and let the lady lead him away. I went with Brian into the other room.

"I'm surprised." He muttered. "Thought you might try to run off."

"I have my reasons." He started, like he had forgotten my sense of hearing worked. I scowled at him. "But if anything happens to him, I'll thrash both of you."

He nodded, not looking the least bit concerned. Of course he wouldn't be. He was bigger than five of me. I climbed up into the chair and let him hook me up to the machine.

I frowned as the lights started scanning my body. a cold wind blew my hair into my face. "Isn't this a little much for a checkup?"

"Of course not..."

Even though I could see his mouth moving, the rest of Brian's answer was lost to me. Exhaustion hit me so hard it made me nervous. Brian leaned in closer as my eyes began to close. The last thing I saw was his blurry shape moving away from me.

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Oswin1800 says...


“Will you be alright?” Alex asked me.

I swallowed hard and nodded. I didn’t want her to see how scared I was.

“What does that do?” I said pointing to the chair.

“It’s just a checkup.” The doctor replied, obviously irritated at my lack of compliance.

I paused considering my options but the crushing reality that I was trapped forced me into the chair. I thought of Alex in the other room and ice cold fear flooded my body. My brain felt so sluggish but I refused to allow myself to sleep. I had to stay awake. Unfortunately my body did not agree with me and my eyelids began to droop. I felt like I had been covered with a blanket of darkness and my body went numb. My head felt impossibly light like a balloon, I thought I might float away. Slowly I gave myself over to the blackness.

I woke up very slowly.

“Alex...” I muttered as my eyes adjusted to the light.

“She’s fine and you are looking good,” the doctor reported. “You are free to go but be careful, the effects of the chair made you especially sleepy.”

He looked at me the way a fox looks at a rabbit. I felt a shiver go down my spine as his words registered in my sluggish brain. I bolted upright and leapt from the chair crashing into Alex’s room. She looked up surprised, concern spread across her face.

“What happened to you?” She asked with worry creeping into her voice.

“You mean nothing happened to you?” I said gripping the wall for support.

“I’m not the one that looks like a drowned pelican.”

“You sure?” I countered. She seemed be fine, which relaxed me a bit. This was a mistake because my anxiety was all that had kept me functional. “Madame drowned kitten,” I giggled nearly falling to the floor.

“I’m going to chock that up to you being drunk and not sock you,” she responded with a smirk.

“I’m not drunk Princesa”

“Could have fooled me” she said stumbling over to me.

My body all of a sudden felt very heavy and the edges of my vision blackened. “Princesa my limbs feel like lead.” I took a step forward and nearly tumbled to the ground.

She rushed forward and caught me under the arm. Using her for support I steadied myself. “Those chairs did something bad” I muttered clutching my head.

“C’mon you just need to sleep it off. Lean on me,” she instructed.

“Alex...” I mumbled.

She shot a glance over her shoulder and then led me out of the room. “You’re High as a kite what did they do to you?”

Suddenly I stopped her and pulled her against the wall with what little control I had. “Alex are you alright?” I asked her as seriously as I could. If I was struggling to function surely something must have happened to her.

“I’ll be fine as soon as you are,” she answered quickly trying to drag me forward.

“No really?”

“Just a bit fuzzy,” she assured me.

I nodded and she led me down the hallway again. My head was so light I thought it would float off my shoulders. Surprisingly my legs felt so heavy I could barely lift them and they wouldn’t obey my brain at all. It was all I could do to focus enough to move. It was hard not to lean on Alex but she must have been struggling too so it wasn’t fair to need her so much.

She stopped in front of the stairs. “You aren’t getting up those,” she stated bluntly.

I stared up at my obstacle in silence.
“Whatcha talking about?” I asked confidently.

Internally groaning I dropped to my knees and began to crawl up the stairs. I had to find a way around my problems or I would never make it. Alex understood this, that was the first rule of living on the street. You improvise or you die.



“You’re gonna kill yourself,” she warned.

“No I got this, watch” I insisted as I pulled myself higher.

“You’re being stupid.”

“Whose gosh darn idea was it to make stairs!” I muttered.

“Whose dumb idea is it to climb them when he can’t even walk?” She complained.

“I can do it. Look Alex I’m doing it. If I can do a backflip why can’t I climb some stairs?”

“Because you’re drugged!” She exclaimed, “wait a minute you can do a backflip?”

“Yes and eat fire,” I answered quickly so I could focus on crawling. I could feel myself slowly slipping away and I knew we needed to hurry.

I heard her whisper something about me being delirious.

“No! I can do it! You got some fire?” I challenged.

She rolled her eyes and climbed up after me. I used the wall to prop myself up and when she reached me she dragged me away making my head spin. “Woah that’s fast,” I sputtered.

I don’t remember walking down the hall but suddenly we were in my room and I collapsed on the bed.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked her again not understanding how she could possibly be fine while I was a mess.

“Yeah. My head hurts but I’m pretty sure that your fault.”

“Hey!” I exclaimed. My head was in a pillow so my voice must have been muffled.

“What?” She said with a sigh.

“Besides I’m not delirious just disoriented,” I added disregarding her question.

“You wanted to swallow fire”

“I could!”

“Go to sleep Finn.”

“Fine,” I conceded. I was about to pass out anyway but she didn’t need to know that.


“Mmm” I groaned.

“You and I both know if you weren't shot up with whatever they thought was a good idea to give you, you wouldn't be stupid enough to even think about that.”

I was too exhausted to argue anymore. My mind kept searching for an explanation for everything that had happened but not successfully.

“Am I okay? Was I sick?”

“Like I know?”

“All I can understand is I feel like a balloon Princesa,” I closed my eyes.

“Opposite for me.”

“A brick?”

“Sure. Do bricks feel like their insides want to become their outsides?”

“I don’t think bricks feel much of anything honestly,” I answered.

My head throbbed and a wave of nausea overwhelmed me. The room was spinning and I couldn’t stop it. It was like being trapped on a carnival ride forever. I had only been on one once with my mom but it had left me feeling so whoozy we left the carnival early. Probably because I had just eaten an entire funnel cake but I hadn’t made the correlation at the time. The numbness in my limbs began to wear off and I realized that my entire body was aching.

“What is happening to us?” I whispered.

“I don’t know,” Alex answered trying not to let the panic creep into her voice. That didn’t work on me. One look told me she was just as terrified as I was.

“I’ll protect you,” I assured her.

“Not like that,” she laughed.

“I can try”

“Unless you’re going to crawl our enemies to death we are out of luck.”

“Nonsense!” I grinned, “I’ll tell them horrible jokes.”

“That’ll just make me want to die,” she smiled.

“Not the goal.”

She closed her eyes and swallowed a few times. Anger flooded my body because of what they had done to her. I could hardly breathe I was fuming.

“Finn if it’s okay I’m going to sleep for a bit.”

“Course ‘tis” My words slurred.

I couldn’t keep myself conscious any longer and I went limp.

I found myself wandering through the back alleys I had first met Alex in. She was kicking a can a few steps ahead of me. Her red hair blowing wild in the wind. She was going to have to cut it when she went back to the home. We thought we could run forever but the past always caught up to us. My eyes scanned the boxes along the street for anything useful. A rustling sound made me stop and inspect a milk crate.

“ALEX” I yelled.

She raced to my side as I picked up a bright red puff ball. The puppy looked up at me confused but happy.

The scene shifted to years later. We were sneaking out a window Alex dropped me down to the street and then jumped into my arms. We took off running like madmen. The pavement seemed to never touch our feet as we flew through the city. Freedom filled my lungs and a whoop escaped my lips.

Suddenly I was shaken awake by an adult I didn’t know.

“Finn are you okay?” The woman asked.

I responded by vomiting all over the bed.

“The chairs have a different effect on everyone no need to be embarrassed.” She assured me.

“Come on lets get you cleaned up.”
Why do we capital-N Nerds love Mars so much?
Because it's beautiful, it's tough, it's buried in our mythic, childhood memories.
It's covered with human triumphs but also with sad stories of failure.

-Greg Bear

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Sun Nov 26, 2017 12:56 am
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Europa says...


We finally stopped at a tiny cabin in the middle of an open field. I swung my leg over the bike and looked doubtfully out at the house.

"Don't you think we should stay somewhere a little harder to find?"

"I would have said the same thing," Joseph smiled a little at me. "If you were actually staying in the house."

"What do you mean?"

"Long of the short of it, there's a secret room. You'll see." With that, Joseph started toward the house. His strides were so long I had to jog to keep up with him. When we got to the front porch, he knocked three times on the door. The dark haired woman--I think her name was Emily or something-- who had taken Cole answered the door and quickly ushered us in. She shut the door behind us and locked it. I felt nervousness prickle at the nape of my neck. Joseph lead me to the back wall. He looked over at the woman--Natalie. That was her name.--"Is he in there?"

Natalie nodded. Joseph knocked, softly this time. There was a moment of silence and then the sound of a deadbolt sliding open. a rectangular section of the wall swung open. Cole was standing in the doorway. At the sight of him my heart gave a little jump. I smiled. He grinned back at me. Joseph looked between us and then to Natalie. She smiled. Joseph cleared his throat. "Erhm...why don't I show you the exit?"

He lead me into the room and shut the door softly behind him. The room was small and dimly lit by small lanterns. Two sleeping bags had been laid out near a long rectangular metal box. It looked like something you'd store firewood in.

"If we run into any trouble, you can get out through there." Joseph opened the box and we looked inside. The bottom had been taken out, and a ladder had been bolted to the side, descending down into a long tunnel. "Follow the path, and you should end up on the other side of the meadow. There's a little patch of woods nearby. Lie low there and wait until we come to get you."

I looked up at Cole. I could tell from the look he gave me that we were thinking the same thing. If we ran into trouble, we wouldn't be waiting for anyone. Joseph, misjudging the look, gave us one of those awkward glances and headed toward the door.

"Well, two probably want some time to yourselves. I'll just uh...yeah...I'll be back to check in on you guys in a bit." And with that he darted out and shut the door. I sighed and sat down against the wall, a little at the twinge of pain flared in my gut and I grit my teeth a little. Cole slid down next to me, and gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze. "You alright?"

I give him a small smile. "Yeah, I'm fine. It was a bumpy ride over, that's all. Could have been worse, right?"

"I'm glad it wasn't."

"That makes two of us."

Cole stood up. "Maybe there's something down here that'll take the edge off. It's probably been a while since you've had any pain meds, right?"

I shrugged, trying to ignore the throb. "Yeah. But I'll be fine. They were talking about taking me off them soon anyway."

Cole took a look around the room. "Still..." He heads over to where a first aid kit hung on the wall and opened it up. "It wouldn't hurt to have something like this, right?" He held up a bottle of Asprin, smiling. His smile wavered as he catches sight of something on the back of the bottle. "That expired in 2008...maybe not."

I grimaced a little as he said it. "Agreed."

Cole put the bottle back and started digging again.


He looked up from the kit. "Yeah?"

I looked down at where my hands rested in my lap. "I never thanked you."

Cole closed the first aid kit, and headed back to sit by me again. "For what?"

"What you did at F.U.S.E. Headquarters." I'm not sure what I felt when I said it. Relief, maybe. But there was something else. The feeling you get when you go to school knowing you don't have an assignment.

Cole shook his head at me. He had the same look that he did when we were together in the cell. "I couldn't leave you."

The words hit me harder than they should have, disturbing the dormant butterflies in the pit of my stomach.

Cole's eyes turned to the ceiling. He leaned back. The lamplight caught on the edge of his chin. There was a small scar there. Something you might get when you cut yourself shaving, but a little more defined. A close call with a bullet earned that, most likely. Cole sighed. "You know, this was the last place I wanted to move. I hated my mother for making me leave Boston. But now...I can't imagine not having moved here."

I smiled. "I'm glad you did."

"Sure you are." He smirked. "Otherwise you'd be sitting here all alone."

"Well, yeah." I laughed a bit. "There is that."

A small silence flickered between us, warm and comfortable. "You know, I don't think you've ever told me anything about your family."

"I guess not." He answered carefully.

"What are they like?"

"Well, they're...." He paused, like he was trying to find the right words. "kind of a mess. My mom and I...we've had our ups and downs. She tried to take care of my sister and I, but..." He shook his head with a heavy sigh. "What about you?" He looked me dead in the eye "You've always been awfully quiet about your family life."

I felt my heart seize up a little in my chest. "I--" I stopped myself from telling him I didn't want to talk about it. "Alright. You want me to start with the normal stuff?"

Cole shrugged. "If you want."

"Counting me, there are six kids in my family."

"I don't think that's exactly normal."

I rolled my eyes and smiled a little. "You get used to it. Anyway, my dad's a judge. He works up at the courthouse."

Cole's eyes widen a bit. "Has he always worked there?"


"Like, has he ever worked anywhere else?"

I thought for a moment. "I don't think so. Why ask?"

"No reason." Cole said with a look that hinted there probably was a reason. "Go on."

"There's not much else. I have a rabbit, Elanor. My sister just started her freshman year in collage--she's studying criminal justice. Plans to be an interrogation specialist or something-- And...I guess that's it."

Cole was quiet for a minute. "What about your mom?" He asked me.

I felt the sudden urge to wince but I stayed still. "What about your dad?" I countered. Cole flinched like I'd taken a swing at him. Both of us were quiet for a long time.

"I won't make you tell me anything you don't want to." I said quietly. I reached out and took his hand. "But I need to know you won't, either."


I leaned against him. I don't know when we had gotten so close to each other, and in that moment I didn't care. "I love you." I whispered

A split second of pause, then "I love you too, Riley."

He turns and kisses me again. I wondered if it would ever feel different to have his lips on mine. If I'd ever lose the feeling of wanting to stay like that forever. I wondered if this was what love was. always wanting to get closer.

Then the door opened and there was a startled "Oh!"

We broke apart and leaned back against the wall. Joseph was standing in the doorway with a tray in his hands and a look of utter shock on his face. I swear his cheeks reddened a little. "U-uh this...yeah this looks like a bad time. I'll just, ah..." He set the tray down and dashes back out the door like he'd been chased by a wild animal. Cole and I looked at each other. A smile pulled by lips tight. We both burst out laughing. Gosh. The look on that guy's face.

"we're probably gonna have to get used to that." I managed between breaths and laughter.

Cole grinned at me. "I hope so."

If it wasn't for poetry, I couldn't express myself.
— Rosendorn