Energy and Matter: Part 10

10.

Bonds Remote and Near

The girls’ first week in the bunker passed in variants of their first days. However unknowingly, their training progressed with similar rapidity. Before long, Elise was onto self-defense training. Her confidence grew, however shakily and more disheartened she felt from their hiding.

Meanwhile, Hailey’s training had surpassed even Valerie’s expectations. They’d progressed from mindfulness, empathic projection, and instinct honing, to Active Link Training. Activating the Link was already second nature. Often Hailey activated it just to reassure herself she could at whim. Her daily meditations, too, had eased her fears of the Link. She’d even begun speaking through it, as any Seer might. Valerie’s training sessions had gone from silent instruction and audible response, to full-on silence to anyone without an active Link.

More importantly, she’d begun remote viewing– taking in distant or foreign sites merely by focusing on their surroundings. As if a psuedo-picture-in-picture engaged, the Link-view of the training room dissolved into the hazy place she focused on. Presently, that was home. Specifically, the front of her house.

A police cruiser sat outside where she and Valerie stood, as if specters haunting the place. Cars crept past, passing through them as the air particles they were. The remote viewing merely connected them to it. The cushion of energy and matter was mental wifi. The Seers immersed themselves in it, and through its universal pervasiveness, projected them along it as sentient data along a net connection. That wifi was what Hailey’s author would’ve called Dark Matter, and what Valerie called psychokinetic, or PK, energy.

Whatever it was, an active Link might stretch out a mental hand along it. By reaching out and following it, she might go anywhere. Her mind was a vast, unending entity through it: Hailey closed her eyes, activated the Link, and reached out. Invisible fingers felt along tendrils of energy that connected all of reality. They permeated in and around the room. The city. The state. The planet. The universe. She pulled herself along, as though dangling off a precipice. Once reaching the top, a rightness in her gut apexed. Active images of the place she sought appeared.

Presently, Valerie’s golden form accompanied her outside her home. The police cruiser hardly affected the scene. Sorrow stung her chest. It wasn’t hers. She’d long been separating her emotions from others. Along with Link activation, such emotional control was second nature. It was her parents. A bitter-sweetness beneath marked her mother from her father’s sour anger.

“Is it a violation of the tenets to go in?” Hailey’s harmonious whispers asked.

Valerie’s head shook in silence. Hailey took a deep breath; the street flickered. She was inside and out, dissolving from one place to the next. Then, she was inside, the street now her living room. Her parents sat at the dining-room table, at the head of the adjoined room, their hands clutching one another.

One officer stood beside the other whom sat at the table. “Mrs. Ferguson, I’m sorry, there’s simply nothing more we can do.”

Hailey felt his genuine regret. Dad’s anger and grief smothered it. “What do you mean there’s nothing more? You haven’t done anything.”

“Sir, I understand you’re angry, but in cases like this, there’s usually something to go on. We’ve found nothing outside the initial scene.”

“My daughter just disappeared into thin air, is that it?” Her father blurted.

“Mr. Ferguson, I’m telling you there’s nothing more the BPD can do. We have APBs and Amber alerts out for both your daughter and Elise Brennan, but there’s nothing more our investigators can do. They’ve combed the available evidence, but aside from a few eyewitness reports, there’s nothing else to track your daughter’s movements.”

Hailey’s mother choked back tears, “She’s still alive.”

The officer winced, “I sincerely hope you’re right, Ma’am. Unfortunately, the BPD cannot devote any further resources to this case. I’m sorry.”

Hailey’s father rose from his chair. “Get the hell out of my house.”

The first cop eyed the second, then shook his head, “I’m sorry.”

They filed out. Her father’s eyes bored holes into their heads the whole way. He stepped to the front, bay window, and watched the cruiser pull away. Hailey’s mother suddenly appeared beside him, gripping his left arm with both of hers.

“She’s alive, Alex,” she said, tearfully. “I know it. She’s alive and she’s safe.”

Hailey choked out a sob. The dream-like Link shattered and fell away. Valerie found herself once more sitting before Hailey in the training room. She remained silent, allowing Hailey time to recompose herself. She did so only after a gentle reassurance.

“Grief is a difficult emotion, Hailey,” she said quietly. “It is the deepest-rooted. Rare in its true form. There are many levels between sadness and true grief, but you’ve yet to truly experience the latter… Until now. Seeing them thus, and not reacting, would be more dangerous than you realize. This is normal.

“Rather than let it control you, use it to hone your focus. Know, that one day, you will feel their love again. They, in turn, will feel yours. They will know their suffering was not in vain. When they understand what’s happened, their love will allow them to accept it. For now, know it is there. Know, that when you are ready, you will lighten their hearts with your return.”

Hailey wiped her eyes and took a deep breath. She gathered all her grief into her breath and exhaled it. She closed her eyes and reactivated the Link. Valerie followed suit.

Were you not so adept, you would not have been capable of that, Valerie said without prompt.

I know that should be comforting, but it’s not.

It is what it is. How you take it is your choice. Rejoice that you have one– and that there are those who love you.

Hailey cleared the grief from her throat. “I know. But I’d rather not revisit them yet.”

“Then we will focus elsewhere. Another place your memory is strong.

Hailey relaxed, mind once more stretching out. This time, it grasped along the mental paths for Bacatta High-School. Before long, they stood in the Commons, unchanged since their disappearance save a few new posters, including one of the girls’ disappearance.

“Good to know some things never change,” Hailey said sarcastically.

“What would you rather they do? Seek you where you should not be found? Perhaps rally behind your faces for mischief?”

Hailey shook her head. “No. You’re right. Life goes on within and without you, right?”

Valerie cracked a smile. “A wise sentiment indeed.” She waited to see if Hailey would speak, then continued. “Tell me of this place. Why return here?”

Hailey wasn’t sure. She searched the faces, found the same melange of emotions she’d come to expect; excitement. Lust. Happiness. Depression. Indifference. A half-dozen others that comprised the average teenager during an average day of average life.

“I don’t know. Maybe ‘cause I feel out of place, and this is sort of where everyone does.”

“An astute observation,” Valerie said.“Do you wish to return here some day?”

Hailey had to think about it. Valerie allowed it. Whether she wanted to return to school seemed to hinge on whether it, and her life before, could be separated. Everyone there was out of place, but that gave them a place to be. She would be even more so now. Before, she’d just been another angsty teen, however eclectic or eccentric. Now, she was literally a breed apart from normal humans. Though she’d always technically been, it mattered now.

“I’m not sure,” she finally admitted. “I’d like to return to my life some day, but…”

“But is this truly your life anymore,” Valerie finished. “It is a question we all must ask ourselves when reflecting on what is left behind. Trust in me when I say that there is not a Seer whom knows the truth and has not asked the same question.”

Hailey’s projection eyed Valerie’s. “Is there an answer?”

She frowned, “Not a satisfactory one, so far as I know.”

“I can do this. The remote viewing. Can we move on?”

Valerie nodded. The Commons dissolved back to the training room and Valerie before her. They sat in silence for a moment, allowing Hailey’s inexplicable desperation to abate. When it did, Valerie re-focused her attention.

“I will next instruct you in manipulating your environment.”

“Meaning?”

“You will learn to control objects via telekinesis.”

“Telekinesis? I thought that was just a myth.

Valerie rose and motioned for Hailey to follow. They stepped to the room’s center, as before, the Link no longer active. Valerie produced the small stress-ball they’d come to use for various trainings. She presented it to Hailey, palm flat beneath it, and closed her eyes. The ball rose, unaided.

“Woah.”

It zoomed away, followed a wide arc, soared through long loops. As fast as it left, it returned, settling gently into a hover over Valerie’s hand. She opened her eyes, ball still hovering.

“In time, you will have this control. For now, we will keep things simple.” The ball came to a rest in her hand. “Activate the Link as normal.” Hailey did, settling her mind where the Link was most stable. “Now, reach out through your empathic connection. Feel the ball as you would my presence. It is not living, but inanimate. It does not exude energy, but rather occupies a space in it– a mass of matter.”

Hailey understood her meaning; living things had an aura, a sort of halo of magnetic repulsion around them. The nearer you were, physically, the stronger the field. This field allowed a Seer to feel out others from objects, and distinguish them through the Link. Once discerned, it was there the empathic projections could be read from, directed to. Ordinary objects merely existed. There was no aura. No faint trace of energy. Only minute repulsion generated by subatomic bonds.

The easiest way Hailey had found to explain it was that living things were chaotic, warm. Their energy and matter constantly shifted, rearranged, altered by the infinitely smaller organisms and bonds forming them. Regular matter was different. Cold. It was a tight-knit amalgamation of specific atomic and subatomic bonds, that ostensibly, never changed.

Hailey felt for the cold object now resting in Valerie’s hand. Not being as adept as Valerie made her like a blind child groping for a goal. Thankfully it was only mentally. Otherwise would have been significantly more uncomfortable.

Valerie sensed that she’d located the ball. “Now, as you would pull yourself toward a remote destination, you must pull the object toward you. Meanwhile, maintain its vertical position by keeping the tether from slacking.”

The instructions were clear enough, but the ball slid forward and immediately hit the floor. Hailey lost control. It rolled away. Valerie levitated it back.

“Again.”

Hailey grasped the ball. It slid off Valerie’s hand, hung in place. Then, like Wily E. Coyote, it plummeted to floor. Her confidence went with it.

“Sense the fields of the ball and your PK meeting. Repelling. Steady them. It is subtle. Again.”

The ball hung a full-second longer than before. It fell again. Hailey’s frustration rippled through the Link.

“Relax,” Valerie snapped. “You cannot control an object without first controlling yourself. Do not regress. Again.”

Hailey wanted to snap back. It would only be answered with greater fury. Instead, she took a deep breath, let her emotions run their course and fizzle out. She re-focused, grasping the ball. A moment later, it hovered between them. Hailey’s concentration had become so fixed she almost didn’t hear Valerie’s praise.

“Very good. Now across the room and back.”

Hailey felt the ball levitate, as if a series of pistons thrust endlessly at one another to keep the ball in place or move it along. She let herself grasp the resting rhythm. Then, as if manipulating select pairs of pistons, began rocking the ball forward. In reality, the ball neither rocked nor rolled, and instead began to drifting forward. She pulled back, the imaginary pistons shifting. The ball drifted back. It sank back into a hover between them and Valerie smiled.

“We will hone this technique now. Do as I instruct without question and as quickly as possible.” Valerie began to issue commands. For a half-hour the ball zoomed back and forth, up and down, sketching a variety of two, then three-dimensional shapes. All the while, Hailey kept her focus attuned, refining her broad control so that finer control could come easier. By the time she’d finished training for the day, her confidence had all but returned.

She was headed to the bathroom when she ran straight into Elise. Her eyes had been focused on a tablet of paper. Elise had meant to silently escape the bathroom, freshly showered after training with Yaz. The two smacked into each other, almost simultaneously falling to their asses. They rose together, apologizing. Elise recognized it was Hailey, hesitated.

“Sorry,” Hailey said again.

“Yeah, me too,” Elise replied, less sincere than before.

She began to step past. Hailey stopped her, “Hey.” Elise eyed her. “Everything okay?”

Elise chewed her lip, “No, Hailey. It isn’t. I’m coping, but I can’t pretend like I’m not affected. If you want an honest answer, that’s it. If you want me to lie, don’t bother asking.”

Hailey winced. Elise took her chance and escaped. She headed back to her room. Hailey’s heart sank. On top of everything, she’d as much as lost her best friend simply by trying to save her. She deflated with a sigh and pushed through the bathroom door, her heart sinking into her stomach.

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Energy and Matter: Part 3

3.

Go Google Yourself

Hailey and Elise found a place beneath a massive oak tree to sit and smoke. By all accounts, it was the perfect day for it; not too hot or cold, lively wildlife, and just enough of a breeze to keep the air from stagnating without blowing the weed away. The pair soaked up the spring afternoon in peaceful silence. Elise’s whispers were quieted by Hailey’s continual concentration on not hearing them. Hopefully, it would become second nature. For now, easing the throbbing headache was enough.

Despite the serenity, obvious tension clung to the air between them. Hailey’s newfound ability had met its match in what Elise had revealed. Given the emotions brewing beneath both subjects, there a conversation or two was to be had. For the moment, they were occupied by the bag in Elise’s lap. She gave the joint a final lick and her tongue ring glinted at Hailey’s eye.

The signs of her changing sexuality seemed more obvious now, but nothing was so glaring out of context. The conversations they hoped to avoid were entwined now, but Hailey kept quiet to enjoy the clean air and pure bud.

She blocked out the whispers by focusing on the wind: whoever had these abilities naturally must hide them expertly– or was incurably insane. She wasn’t sure which direction she was headed yet. Elise passed the joint. She took a deep hit, exhaled a plume of smoke. Her head fogged over to obscure the whispers. The vise lifted from her head, allowing her to relax against the tree-trunk.

“Damn, that’s good weed. Where’d you get it?”

Elise chuckled, “That’s like asking where the bodies are hidden. You know you aren’t getting an answer.”

Hailey managed a snort, “There’s bodies now?”

Elise winked over a wavy smile. Hailey managed a laugh. Elise took another hit. The joint made its rhythmic passage between them without need of acknowledgment, but the tension was nearer than they liked. Elise took the joint back and inhaled a massive drag.

She spoke from a shallow throat, “Guess we should talk ‘bout the elephants, huh?”

Hailey blew a long, defeated cloud of smoke. “I guess.”

Elise passed the joint, “We did ditch class for it.”

Hailey worked up her courage, “You wanna’ go first?”

“Oh no.” She gave a firm shake of her head. “You brought us out here, you spill it. Besides, it’s not like there’s much to say about… my thing, anyway.”

Hailey wasn’t sure she agreed, but went ahead. “I told you, I was… meditating about this book, and now I can hear people’s thoughts. It’s weird. And scary. And I want it to stop.”

“Not to mention pretty intrusive. No offense.”

Hailey deflated, “I know. Who would want this? And why me? And what about that vision thing? Is this how my life’s going to be now? Hearing people’s deepest secrets and living stuff twice while passing out? What the hell kind of life’s that?”

Elise shrugged, “Sort’a sounds like a gift to me.”

“A gift!?” Hailey blurted. “You’re out of your mind.”

“Think about it. It’s like a super power. You get the cool stuff, like hearing what your crush thinks, and the not so cool stuff– like, well, having to see bad things before they happen.” Hailey’s mouth squirmed with dread. “Maybe though, being able to see it happen means you can keep it from happening, like a superhero.”

Hailey’s mouth continued to make funny shapes, “Elise, you’re nuts. This can only be a bad thing. Why would you want to hear what people think?”

She cocked an eyebrow up, “It’d be a lot easier to date… But yeah, I get it.”

Hailey whined, head in her hands, “This is not happening. It’s a dream. A hallucination. Too many mushrooms– are there such things as ‘shroom flashbacks?”

Elise shrugged, “Never heard of ‘em.” She took the last hit off the joint then snuffed it in the grass, “But if you wanna’ know about something, check the ‘net. You know, google it.”

“Google what? How to tell if you’re psychic?” She snipped derisively.

“Why not?”

Hailey groaned, “This is so not good I can’t find a word for it.”

“Bad?”

“It’s beyond that.”

Elise stared off into space, “Beyond bad. Hmm…”

Hailey let her words ring for a moment, “I’ll look into it, but… can I ask you something?”

“Hmm?” She said with a glassy-eyed look.

“What made you realize–”

“That I’m Gay?” Elise said with a raised brow.

“Yeah, sure… gay.”

Elise considered it, “Probably rubbing off to girls instead of guys.”

Hailey’s face crumpled, “T-M-I.”

“You asked.”

Hailey rolled her eyes. “You haven’t told anyone else, huh?”

“Technically I didn’t tell you. But no.”

“Is it hard? Living with that secret, I mean?”

Elise pawed at her hair, flattened it from the breeze, “Not really. It’s not like anyone’s asking. My parents like that I’m not dating and the rest of my family wouldn’t care anyhow.”

“What about your other friends?”

“You mean the invisible ones here now?” She asked with a smart-assed, sweeping hand.

“C’mon, it’s not like I’m you’re only friend,” Hailey argued. “What about Trent and those guys? Or Mal and her group?”

“They’re more acquaintances than friends. Trent and his friends mostly want to bang me. And Mal and the others just mooch my weed. You’re the only one I’d consider a real friend.”

The admission stung her heart a little. “Quality over quantity,” Hailey reassured her.

Elise’s mouth puffed out a little. The rest of her face rose and fell, “That’s what I keep saying.” An awkward silence descended. Hailey broke it to move on, “So, um, any crushes then?”

Is this your way of trying to get me to say I like you?

“Don’t think that,” Hailey corrected. “I’d just ask.”

“Sorry, but no. I’m still trying to figure out what my, uhm– type?– is, I guess. Not you.”

Hailey laughed, “No wonder we can only stand each other. We’re like a couple of whiney old ladies; the haggish psychic and the smart-ass lesbian.”

Elise chuckled, pushed herself up “C’mon, let’s head to your house and google psychic stuff.”

“Okay,” Hailey said, following her up. “And maybe some lesbian porn, if there’s time.”

She shoved Hailey playfully, “Jerk.”

Hailey shoved back, “Lez-bo.” Hailey gave her a sideways hug as they walked. “This person loves you at least.”

“Enough for me,” Elise said, less sarcastically than usual.

They headed back to Elise’s car and made for Hailey’s house. On arrival, they piled their stoned arms full of pantry-booty, then headed to Hailey’s room to sit side-by-side at her desk, surfing the net for anything even remotely related to psychics. Eventually, they ended up on her bed propped in various positions with the high wearing thin. Elise lie near the bed’s edge, feet in the air on a wall, and reading from an e-tablet. At the head of the bed, Hailey sat cross-legged to sift search results for anything outside conclusive proof of human insanity.

“Check this out,” Elise said, righting herself to face Hailey. “Separation between Seer and norm is genetic, but requires the activation of the Seer’s latent abilities. Most usually, through accessing The Link, an otherwise cryptic name for the state of mind connecting Seers to their sight-based power and the energy that they rely on. Sound familiar?”

“The Link? What the hell kind of name is that? How reputable’s this site?”

Elise shrugged, “How reputable are any of ‘em?” Hailey saw her point. “Anyway, I don’t think there’s a “Psychic Handbook.”

“Probably not,” Hailey despaired.

A knock sounded on her door and she was suddenly glad her psychic abilities were suppressed. The last thing she wanted was knowing her mother’s twisted thoughts. Her head poked through the door, her face an aged version of Hailey’s. She stuck it into the room with her top-half, held on the door’s edge as if about to be swept away on a rapid.

“Hi, Elise.”

“Hi, Mrs. Ferguson,” Elise said with a wave.

“Hailey, your father and I are going out to dinner. There’s money on the kitchen table. Order whatever you want, but I want the change, okay?” Hailey nodded. “Have a good time and be good.”

“You too,” Hailey said. “Have fun I mean.”

Mom let the rapid pull her from the door as it shut. Elise chided her, “Your mom’s kinda’ hot.” Hailey faked gagging. Elise laughed, half covering her face, “I didn’t mean it. I just wanted to see your reaction.” Hailey gagged again. “C’mon, free food’ll help.”

They grabbed their respective tech to head for the kitchen. Before long they’d settled on a pizza from a place down the road. Delivery meant more time to waste on the net– and sneaking to Elise’s car for another joint. They returned lighter than before and in time for the pizza to arrive. For a while, Hailey forgot the world, soaking instead in the ambrosial mix of food and grass so often the cherry atop a good night.

Tonight it felt less good. Something about her fainting spell nagged at her. Contrary to expectations too, even the less tinfoil-hat websites hadn’t mentioned anything about it. Whatever had happened to her, however similar it was– if the web were truthful– there was a definite difference in her. Nowhere had she read anything about fainting or migraines. The most common side-effects ranged from minor paranoia to full-blown psychosis. She didn’t need either of those. Part of her was grateful for headaches and faints instead, but the rest wondered what made her different from other Seers– if indeed she were one.

The more she thought, the more the word seeped into the cracks of her mind. “Seer” had been defined as one whose mental abilities allow access to future, or present, remote events. Her vision at school easily fit the former definition, but what about hearing voices? Was “Seer” separate to her, like she was separate from a “norm?”

Her mind fell to The Link. Supposedly Seers used it to access their powers. If her suppositions and experiences aligned, it was the thing linking them to the “dark energy” her book’s author had presented as the force through which such abilities manipulated reality. If that was true, there was no telling what a Seer was capable of if properly trained.

Dark energy and dark matter were said to be the counter-balances to the universe. In ways, as much had already been proven via Relativity and the blunder of the cosmological constant. In others, the sole question remained of whether or not the “dark” affected them. In no way were there questions of if these things existed. Unfortunately, if that book’s author proved right, Hailey had just been given a sizable chunk of power over the universe– or at least, access to said power.

She didn’t like the idea, liked where things were heading even less. Being a psychic wasn’t high on her list of priorities. Had it been on the list at all, it would’ve been nearer the bottom, far below things like; “don’t flunk out of school,” and “get a job, or get a car.” It made her squirm to think of it being on the list, but it wasn’t the thing bothering her most about being a “Seer.” That was something else. Something beneath the factual tones of net-articles, and even the incredulity Elise used; fear.

Fear dominated all of the information she’d taken in. Seers were simultaneously respected, awed, and terribly feared. She could only think of Tolkien and his “affairs of wizards” when she considered it. Even after her high wore off, and Elise left for the night, Hailey couldn’t help but wonder at it:

What would her life would be like now? Anyone that learned her secret, and accepted it as truth, would be leery of her. She doubted Elise would ever outwardly show it, but she was obviously uncomfortable with someone listening to her most private thoughts. Hailey wanted everything to be a bad dream or a bad joke.

She forced herself into a restless sleep, peppered by dreams of random nothingness. Midway through, one dream hit her hard. She found herself lucid, conscious of the dream-state. Terror stirred her gut. Bile burst up her throat.

Elise slid into her car outside her home. Morning fog rolled beneath overcast skies warning of ill omens. Half-way through Elise’s trip to school, Hailey’s gut wrenched into a knot.

Then, glass shattered. Metal twisted. Elise’s head hit her window. The impact’s bloody orb splintered in a spider-web. In a blink, hands went ’round Elise’s half-conscious body. She was grappled out the door over aggressive shouts.

As if time skipped, Hailey saw a darkened room. Elise was lashed to a chair. Hailey could neither move nor speak. As if stuck on-high, helpless and consigned to watching. A muffled voice demanded something. A silhouetted figure knelt behind Elise. A moment later, a resounding crack of bone echoed through the room. Hailey was ripped from sleep by breaking fingers.

She yelped, upright, sweating, and feeling her hand where the finger had been broken. It was fine. The residual pain from the dream was already fading. No other explanation was needed. The dream was a vision. Another one.

Far from being benign as the last, if reality held true, Elise would be kidnapped and tortured. As the seconds passed, residual guilt from the dream told Hailey it was because of her. She wasn’t sure how or why but her gut confirmed it. If she wasn’t careful, Elise would die soon.

Missed part 2? Find it here!

Short Story: A Cataclysmic Event

Lightning snaked across a black sky. Thunder cracked nearby, rumbling asphalt and concrete. The highway was abandoned– not from the late hour, but rather from the cataclysm most were still coming to grips with. Bethany and Robert were two of those few whom recognized at least some part of the cataclysm’s effects. They wandered along the highway, terrified and lost for action otherwise.

Rain was ready to unleash hell on them, fueled by the flashes back-lighting Beth’s, plump, pale cheeks. Her black hair made her seem all the more ghostly given darkness. Rob didn’t have to see her face to know all color was gone from it. They’d been humping in the back of his late-90’s station-wagon when it happened. Pumping across folded down seats in the woods off the highway kept them free from the angry intrusions of their respective parents.

Until the flash came, the only worries they’d had were whether or not Rob would pull out fast enough. Or if Beth would be part of the point-ex-ex percent whose birth-control failed. Then, the flash; like a giant m-80 that turned night to day. It was so bright it nearly blew Beth off Rob– and him inside her. They panicked, their first instincts of police intrusion. The flash died out a second later though– far too short for a copper’s flashlight.

They panted terror and pleasure, their nerves settling into shakes as they rolled apart at the ruined mood. Beth worked her panties back up her skirt while Rob wormed back into his pants. For a long while they sat, silent and catching their breath on the open tail-gate and sour from their ruined masterplan. When they finally parted for either side of the car’s front, slid into the darkness inside, Rob’s key turned to start the engine.

Nothing happened.

His heart pounded, stomach limboed up into his throat. He turned it again. Nothing. Not even a click. His horrified gaze fixed on the dashboard through the darkness. He suddenly understood irrational panic better. At least this was rational…

“What? What is it?”

It took him a moment to muster his courage. His mind was ablaze with the millions of ways both of their father’s would kill him once they found out where they’d been. That was, of course, after the public derision and castration.

He choked on hard saliva, “It’s dead.”

Beth’s eyes became late-50’s UFOs, “What? What’re you talking about? How?”

He shouted in panic.“I don’t know! It’s dead! I don’t know!”

“Did you leave it on?”

Frustration ground a roar from the back of his throat. He was irritated. His balls were blue, and now, destined to be cut off and stitched back on to his forehead only to be cut off again.

He slammed a hand against the steering wheel. “Stupid piece’a shit!”

Beth’s face turned green usual. “W-we have to do something. Find someone to jump it.”

His breath fluttered the last vestiges of hope, both for his rust bucket and his favorite, dangly bits. He kicked his door open with a squawk of metal. Beth was out behind him, stuck close for fear of being lost in the unimaginably-deep darkness. Even the city’s usual glow was gone– the first signs of something amiss.

But Rob was focused on the empty highway. Its usual vacancy seemed gone, different. The area generally came with fairly sparse traffic, but now, not a single car came nor went. Not even the few expected of waning evenings hours. Not one head-light or hi-beam cut the darkness.

Thunder rumbled again in the distance. Beth inched over. “Rob.” She clung to his arm. “Rob, we need to go before the rain hits.”

His mind was focused where the city’s glow should be. “No cars. No lights at all. And the car won’t start.”

“We need to go back and wait out the storm,” Beth urged, tugging at his hand.

He stood firm, “No, we can’t.”

“We have to. We’ll find help once the storm’s over.”

Rob was certain something had happened; not what, but its effects were obvious. “There’s no-one on the road, Beth. No cars. No lights in town.”

She followed his gaze to the glow’s dark place, “What happened to ’em?”

He wasn’t sure, but he sensed the flash was responsible. Whatever it was, it must’ve killed power to everything. That thought alone was enough to prompt him to take Beth’s hand and walk with her along the small access road. The lightning began, carried on as they inched onto the highway against their better instincts. The trek forward was empty only a few minutes. Then as if from nowhere, a vacant car appeared, mid-lane change and abandoned in the center of the road. Thunder rumbled again, deafening them. They fled for the car as the downpour began.

It was daylight when they finally emerged from the backseat of the strange car. They continued toward town, Rob’s fear for his “boys” only overshadowed by the alien displacement of his now-silent world. More empty cars appeared here and there, abandoned as before. They grew denser and more numerous as the city’s limits came and went. The streets and shop-fronts were devoid of humans, but their presence was felt in what they’d left behind.

Beth’s house was the closer of the two, as certain a place of genital execution as his own. They headed over, encountering the first signs of humanity– a welcome relief from the xenotian terror the empty city had imparted. A man fiddled about in his open garage, a simple sign that they were not, in fact, the last two humans left alive. It put Beth at-ease, propelled her along the twists and turns toward home.

The nearer home came, the more Beth was forced to drag Rob. His uneasiness doubled at his impending, albeit rightly due castration. With that uneasiness, came more people, most as confused and aimless as them. Some were altogether hysterical from the worlds’ forced stop from electricity’s absence. Rob sympathized; his world would stop soon too, or at least a small part of it would– though Rob had always been of the mind that big things came in small packages.

They found Beth’s parents standing worriedly outside. They rushed up to her as she appeared, hugging and kissing her with paternal relief. Rob swallowed hard, his hands unconsciously crossing to cover himself. They paid him no mind as he shuffled awkwardly to her side to await his scrotal death-sentence.

Her father began questioning them, his mind too dulled by the goings-on to notice their obviously guilty faces. Rob was equally dazed. Sweat beaded on his brow. He barely breathed, awaiting the ninjitsu strike that would severe his sperm-pipes and sunder his sausage from his body..

Before her father could turn his eyes to him, Beth threw herself on the proverbial scalpel for Rob’s testicular cause. With a muster of fearful tears, she lied and begged forgiveness ands understanding.

“We were on the highway driving, and the car went dead, and we pushed it into a log but then we freaked and on our way back the storm came, and we hid in a random car and–”

The run-on sentence continued for two full minutes. Rob’s brain struggle to transfer focus, but caught on to Beth’s angle. He retained his stupor with purpose, merely nodding along. It wasn’t difficult to keep her parents suspicions away given the enormity of what had occurred. Before long, they’d even admitted gladness that the couple waited out the storm– despite the obvious fears they’d cause.

Only moments later, the two were wandering to Rob’s house to repeat the scene. His parents reacted with all the same obliviousness as Beth’s had.

In the end, he and Beth were in agreement; whatever had happened saved them from certain doom. No matter how much it had doomed the world, it wasn’t quite as important their respective selves– and Rob’s dangly bits. It may have taken a cataclysmic event, but they’d weaseled out of paying for their petty, teenage rebellion, prolonging the testicular execution for another day.

Energy and Matter: Part 1

1.

A Gift from A Book

Hailey Ferguson, aside from being relatively shorter than most of her friends, was an otherwise normal, maturing human being. She dated, studied, got average grades, and functioned as much on a high-school level as anyone could be said to. There was nothing externally remarkable about her, save being five-one in a school where most girls were nearer six feet. In younger years, it made her a target for ridicule, but now those girls were too obsessed with boys, girls, or themselves, to notice her roaming the halls.

Day by day, wandering was Hailey’s occupation. She drifted from one group of acquaintances to the next in a zig-zagging meander, occasionally accompanied by the lone, other human she might call a friend, Elise Brennan. The only time the rhythm broke was when the five minute bell rang. Then, alone or accompanied, she’d meander toward next destination.

Today, she was headed through the Western Stairwell, alone. She wandered down, a passive figure in a sea of hormones and adrenaline surging and roiling all about about her. Hailey was always a calm center of it all and today was hardly an exception. The sixteen-year old dirty-blonde head rounded the stairs for the second level, bobbed down, then rounded another corner for the ground-floor. The river of students gave a final push through double-doors, then dissipated on the other side.

The crowd half-smothering Hailey a moment ago all but disappeared. To others it seemed she did too, along a gradual curve for a perpendicular hallway and Mr. Harmon’s physics class. She liked Mr. Harmon. She liked his class too. But being the youngest teacher at BHS and bookishly rugged put him in a special place for her. Most of all though, Hailey loved physics. His teaching it made him infinitely more appealing.

Hailey loved physics for one, simple reason: it wedded science and mathematics in a way she wasn’t sure couldn’t explain everything in the universe and beyond, given time. Hailey was nothing if not thirsty for those explanations, and others.

Predictably then, not much could’ve made her late for physics class. She’d have rather broken the mystery of her aloofness by running madly to class before being late. Like her rhythmic meandering though, her aloof manner was in no way endangered today. She let her tranquil legs carry her to class and the left edge of the room: a prime window-seat with extra space for her pack on the floor.

The bell rang and the class settled. Mr. Harmon’s ruggedness took its place before the chalk-board with the rest of him. He waited for the last zips of back-packs to fizzle out into the air, then cleared his throat.

“Today’s lesson’s another in theoretical physics,” he said casually. He rounded for the chalk board. “Energy and Matter.” He wrote the words on the board. “The two things that comprise the entirety of the universe.” He turned back and scratched his neat beard. “To review, what is the difference between the two.”

A few hands went up, Hailey’s among them. Mr. Harmon picked Jordyn Sutton– one of the girls as soon called a slut her friends behind her back, as “BFF” to her face. Hailey’s hand sank. Jordyn cleared her throat, “Energy is a force. Matter is a substance. Like the difference between heat and fire; fire’s physical. Heat’s radiated energy.”

“Yes, very good,” he said. “Any others?”

Jordyn’s face went blank. Hands went up again, Hailey’s with them. Mr. Harmon picked her. “Anything physical versus anything with no mass but the potential for change; Ice and cold, food and calories, or light and a light-bulb.”

“Very good,” Harmon said, returning to the board and scribbling out the answers he’d received. “Now, as we learned before, we know there are extensive relationships between matter and energy, as well as anti-matter. Can anyone remind us about Anti-matter?”

Only Hailey’s hand went up this time. “Anti-matter’s like the negative charge to Matter’s positive charge, but when the two meet, they’re both annihilated from colliding. The result is the creation of mass-less objects like protons and neutrinos.”

He cocked a crooked smile, “Reading ahead again.” The room chuckled. Hailey blushed slightly. The lesson carried on. “Yes. Now, just like matter and energy, there exists dark energy and dark matter. We cannot physically measure or observe them, but their effects on other objects confirm their existence.” He drew a large circle beside a smaller one on the board, “We can visualize this. We know the Earth–” he put an E in the small circle “orbits the Sun–” then, an S in the larger circle. “Because we can track the sun’s progress along the sky. But we also know Mars orbits the sun for the same reason.” He drew another small circle, further away, with an “M.” “However, what if we could not see the sun? How would we know its there?”

Someone spoke aloud. “Because Mars and Earth are still orbiting it.”

Mr. Harmon spun ’round, pointing, “Absolutely right, Michael.” He erased the sun, then redrew it with dashed-lines. “Stars like these are not uncommon. They are impossible to see, however we know they exist because of their effects on their neighbors. We can’t see them but we see them acting on the things around them.” He turned back to the class, “In much the same way, dark matter and dark energy can neither be seen nor measured, but we their effects on the rest of the universe tell of their existence.

“For example,” He wrote “e=mc2” on the board. “Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was originally written to include a cosmological constant a mysterious force counteracting gravity to form a static, or unmoving, universe. Soon after, scientists learned the universe was not static. And in fact, was expanding rapidly. Einstein then removed the cosmological constant from Relativity, calling it, “the greatest blunder of my lifetime.”

“However, recent advances in technology and high-level mathematics have reintroduced the cosmological constant as dark energy. A force, neither seen nor measured, but known to exist because of that same, accelerating expansion that caused Einstein to rule it out. By all theories, excluding the constant requires our universe to be contracting. Observations contradict this. The universe is expanding, and that expansion is accelerating.

Hailey was entirely enthralled. All of her mental focus was on Mr. Harmon. Dark matter and dark energy had swallowed her whole. It was surreal; a thing existing, affecting an entire universe, but invisible, untouchable. It seemed more the realm of fairy-tale than science. Then again, so might wind to those unfamiliar with it. In a way, too, she sympathized with it in a rare bout of anthropomorphism– it reminded her of kids no-one knew of until it was too late.

When the bell finally rang, signaling the transition between periods, the class rose, eager for their last period and the day’s end. Evidently, Relativity applied more to high-schoolers watching ticking clocks than they realized. Hailey was often a victim of such physics-ails as well, but Before she could scamper off Harmon called her over. He handed her a book titled, “Dark Matter and You.”

“It’s not required, but I figured you’ find it interesting.”

Hailey’s eyes lit up, “Yes. Thank you!”

Mr. Harmon gave his charming, bearded smile. “It might get a little “out there,” with the author’s personal theories, but his science and coverage of others’ theories is sound.”
“I’ll do my best to power through,” she chuckled.

“Take your time. No rush,” he said, ending the conversation with a turn for his chalk-board.

Hailey bounced away and into a final period that flew by, relativity notwithstanding. Geometry was easy. She’d long ago surpassed most of her class, only electing to stay out of the AP class for fear of its homework load. That fact afforded her time to start reading Mr. Harmon’s book. She began gobbling up the information, sprinting through pages that would’ve stalled even the most learned readers. Her desire not to stop kept her reading until long after arriving home. She only just managed to keep from staying awake too late by reading herself to sleep.

By Physics the next day, she’d finished the book. She entered class early to return it, and to her surprise, Mr. Harmon wasn’t the least bit shocked she’d finished it. Despite her agreements about “out there” theories, the book had laid out complex theoretical and practical physics in such plain English, anyone would get it.

A sort of fugue state overtook her that day after school: as if only just beginning to process the information, Hailey’s brain worked. She mulled over the various, outlandish theories connecting seemingly random forces, acts, or events to dark matter or dark energy. One, particular theory though, captivated her more than any others:

In effect, it stated a possible explanation for dark energy was human thought. It’s seeming prevalence in the universe, was explained by the ever-increasing human population. That dark energy, the author posited, might even be the “essence of humanity–” what others referred to as the soul, and science called consciousness, or philosophy the “mind-body problem.” It was a stretch, the author admitted, but a possibility. On both accounts, Hailey agreed, but she became fixated on the idea all the same.

She spent the night sitting on her bed, stoned, and staring at the wall in a pseudo-meditative trance. At one point, she must’ve fallen asleep; the room dissolved, replaced by bright, white light. In the dream, she was marked upon her white-light bed by a blueish light glowing with the same, rippling ethereal quality of everything else. Afraid to disturb the peculiar dream, she let her thoughts float a while.

When she finally ripped herself back to reality, she was sitting again on her bed, refreshed but confused. Normally, sleep made her toss about, and never came during daylight hours. Between that and the obvious oddity of her state, she wondered if it was sleep at all. It wasn’t long before plunging back into her thoughts felt the best way to answer her questions– even if the dream continued to dominate them.

She let the questions echo in her mind, whispers on passing winds that kept the thoughts form remaining in place too long. A long, involuntary sigh escaped her lips and her mind slotted back to where it had been. The walls began dissolving again. Bright light flashed into being. Her heart leapt. Fear coursed through her. Whispering thoughts chased it away. She’d been here once already, even if it was a dream.

But it couldn’t be a dream. It didn’t feel like a dream. And despite her various, underwhelming talents, lucid dreaming wasn’t one.

A knock sounded on the door. Her vision flitted within the strange state, followed the ethereal, immobile white-light of walls to the doorway where another, blue figure glowed– and judging from the outlined-knob, beyond it.

“What the hell?” she breathed quietly.

“Hailey?” Her mom called from outside the door. “Honey, dinner’s ready.”

“Uh– o-okay, Mom,” she stammered.

Her mother’s blue-light figure hesitated, shrugged to itself, then meandered away, exiting the reach of the strange sight. Hailey’s mind was still slotted in place, but she jarred herself out with a thought. The light suddenly fell away, back to the room’s normal appearance. She found herself quietly panting, exhilarated.

However it had happened, she suddenly found herself agreeing with the book’s author. And summarily believing she’d linked something he’d described. The only way she could express her astonishment was with a breathy pair of words:

“Holy shit.”

Short Story: New Roommate

Neon glows fought for dominance from opposing sides of the alley. Indistinct shapes reflected off wet asphalt. Streaked along it were the bastardized images of a place akin to skid-row save the mass of bodies endlessly moving about. They appeared more like a single, roiling creature, amorphous and ever in-motion, but with only its constituent parts moving. Here and there, heads bobbed up or down, maneuvered sideways, or leaned at the brisk air blowing this way or that.

Amid it all was a girl. From the looks of it, no more than fourteen, but built as if younger. Thin-wristed, short, and obviously malnourished given the clothes she wore; meant to fit properly, but far too baggy. Had any whom inch-wormed past bothered to look, they’d have found little to linger on. At first glance, they’d see only her thin, angular face protruding from her hood, her eyes averted and downcast. If they managed past that first, sweeping glance, they might catch a small glimpse of frost-white hair or golden eyes. Anything more would be impossible. Any search for it in vain.

Every night she stood there watching, waiting. With no purpose beyond waiting, observing, she barely even bothered to move. Anyone watching long enough would’ve pegged her for a forgotten animatronic before a human being– and a crude one at that. Nonetheless, she remained a perfectly average human, or as much as anyone could be nowadays.

Street-life was never easy. For a young girl, it was a living nightmare. So much had happened to her, around her, she’d effectively shut off to the world at large. The alley-staring was just an excuse to be around people, feel as if maybe she weren’t so alone. She’d been abandoned there a decade ago, told to wait. She still did, but more from habit than foolish hope. Invariably, she’d end up back in her hovel at night’s end; alone, cold, and with nothing but the incessant drip of leaky pipes for company.

She did her usual few hours of staring, fought hunger-shakes with expert will– or perhaps her endless well of loneliness. She could ignore just about anything. A necessity garnered from living in a hovel just beneath A/C units and street-walkers’ rooms. If she’d learned anything on the streets, it was that every man thought himself an Adonis and every woman an Aphrodite. None were.

Whores were the real heroes of the new world. Anyone putting up with such depravity in or on them for a living was a winner in her book– especially considering the depravity she heard first-hand. While she’d considered being a whore herself, her age was more of a problem than simply being illegal. After all, prostitution was illegal, but that hadn’t stopped the Johns and Janes from lining up.

No, her problem was one of value. She was a rare commodity. Too rare. Pure and nubile meant infinitely greater chances of attracting the worst of the scum. It was one thing to be a teenage prostitute for quick plug and plays with mentally twisted Johns and Janes. It was another entirely to be a victim of human trafficking, sadistic ritual, or any of the other million ways things could go wrong. If there was any truth she’d found in her life, it was that anything that could go wrong, eventually did go wrong.

She’d settled for petty theft and occasional panhandling instead. It had worked out well so far, no bodily violation required.

She returned to her hovel to hear some John pumping his brains out down the way. Even at the distance it was obvious the whore was faking it. The John didn’t seem to mind, if he noticed her at all. From what she’d seen, most people ignored what they didn’t want to accept. She was no different. She suspected the John stooping to paying for sex felt the same.

She crawled into her hovel on her hands and knees, ground still wet from the afternoon’s rain. It never rained in the mornings anymore, pollution she’d heard. It only rained afternoons and nights, and more often with each year. It was cold rain, bitter to taste but enough to live off if caught in a cup or a bottle.

The hovel was formed of a few, intersecting buildings’ air conditioning units. Summer’s were noisy, but winters were almost perfect. Excess heat leaked from poor seals, and the awnings above the units made kept it dry in all but the worst of storms.

She curled into a ball on a makeshift-mattress of old newspaper, card-board, and tattered, stinking rags. Sleep never came easy, but did eventually come. She’d almost left reality completely when feet scuffed the asphalt. She sat with a start, almost banged her head on an A/C unit.

“S-sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you!” Her head snapped toward the sounds: A boy’s face, about her age, with blond hair and sapphire eyes shuddered at frightening her. Her eyes bulged, massive and round, the golden irises minute around terror-dilated pupils. He put out his hands in defense, “I’m not gonna’ hurt you, I promise!”

She shrank into her corner, “Why’re you here?”

He glanced up at the A/C units and the awning above them, “It’s dry here. I was hoping, you know… maybe, you wouldn’t mind… sharing the place for the night?”

She thought on it, pupils constricting slowly. She didn’t own the place, but she had claimed it the same way everyone on the street claimed things. Still, the company might be nice.

She was apprehensive, but agreed, “Okay. But don’t steal my stuff or try to touch me.”

“Deal.” He sank into the opposite corner of the hovel, “My name’s Colin, by the way.”

“Andi.”

“Like Andrea?” She nodded. “Pretty name.”

She shrugged, relaxed back onto her makeshift-bed, then watched him through the half-darkness. He was balled up, shivering. His teeth made the tell-tale, persistent clack of one colder than they wanted to admit. She saw now, too, that his clothes were dark, clinging to his malnourished frame. He’d controlled the cold before by moving, but couldn’t once stationary.

Andi sighed. “You’re wet, aren’t you?”

His teeth chattered louder. “Y-yeah. I got chased over b-bread. D-dove into a pond to get away.”

She rolled her eyes, “Come here.” He hesitated. “Don’t get any ideas. I don’t want any cops finding me here. If you die from the cold, that means I gotta’ deal with a body. I’d rather not.” She motioned him over again and he crawled over, laid in front her. She scooted back wrapped her arm over him and pulled him in to her. “No getting handsy, either.”

He soaked in the fresh warmth from her body, “Thank you.”

“You really wanna’ thank me, help me get food tomorrow. For now, sleep.”

He nodded and closed his eyes for sleep.

He certainly wasn’t what she’d been looking for in a change. But then, she wasn’t sure what she was looking for– or even if she was looking for one. All the same, Colin was new, different. Maybe even enough to keep from staring indifferently at the world all day. She wasn’t sure yet, but at the very least, she’d have help getting food. It was more than she’d had an hour before.

A shiver coursed through Colin in his sleep. She squeezed him tighter and he relaxed, stilled. Andi closed her eyes, prepared for a better tomorrow– or at least, dreams of it.

Bonus Short Story: Horizon of Pastels

Early 90’s metal blared from the speakers of his ’68 Camaro. Over the dash, the waxed polish of the blue coat and white racing stripes gleamed in the bright light of the desert around it. She had her head in his lap, sucking him off. Between the vibration of the 396 V8 and her vigorous strokes, he was in utter heaven. He drove with one hand on the wheel, the other between her legs as she splayed out across the leather seats. Her sundress flapped in the hundred-mile-an-hour breeze while her throat groaned against him.

His fingers were wet inside her as she thrust her hips back and up to get off. He suddenly understood how kings and emperors felt. They were Gods among mortals, a half-dozen women on their knees for them at any time. All he had though– or needed for that matter– was her and the car. The three had been running together for months, every night out doing one drug or another, and at some point ending up in a similar position before passing out.

That was of course, all in secret. Likewise the mornings had always come too early and the glaringly recognizable car had to park down the street to drop her off at home. She walked the block in the near-darkness, her sneakers scuffing gravel the whole way. He watched her every step to the house and into the door, even despite the difficulty. And always, before leaving for wherever he was headed, he waited long enough for her to sleep, revved the engine and sped past too fast to be seen.

She never knew anything of it, but he knew exactly what he was doing. So did her father. He couldn’t see the car, but he sensed it’s owner. Always though, when he went to check on his daughter, she was fast asleep in bed– still sore from their sex hours before. If only that fat, abusive prick had known, he’d have killed them both for it.

He was one of those types that always hid their abuses in community participation. He’d take the family out to church on Sundays, and the quiet, reserved family would silently participate in the sermons. Sometimes, they’d even stay after to mingle with the other members of the congregation. She and her mother never betrayed the secret, no matter how much they wanted to, but from fear rather than love.

When she was younger, Karen– or Kay, as he always called her– had made the mistake of saying something to him about the abuse. Jake showed up the next day with a squadron of cops and a loaded .45. They pulled everyone out of the house, took them into separate interrogation rooms, had female cops examine the women physically. There was nothing to suggest abuse. Kay’s “dad” ended up beating her half to death when it was all over, but when in the hospital, everyone insisted she’d been mugged the night before, walking home.

That was the last time Jake got the law involved. Ever since then, he’d taken matters into his own hands. The prick couldn’t blame anyone when he woke up some mornings with swastikas burned into his yard, or his tires slashed, or with broken windows in his car. He always called the police, and they always took his reports, and did absolutely nothing. Most of them had gone to school with him, took him at his word. It was the same reason he’d gotten away with the beatings and escaped the interrogations unscathed.

Everything changed recently though. How he’d pulled it off, Jake didn’t know, but he knew what he’d pulled off. Kay had been in to see a gynecologist for a cursory examine after turning eighteen. Somehow the bastard got hold of her medical records, or bribed a doctor, and found out her cherry’d been popped. He also found out she was on birth-control, as opposed to the anti-acne pills she’d said she was taking.

The beating she received then only stopped when Jake showed up. The house was wrecked. Glass was shattered all over the place. Kay and her mother were barefoot in the middle of it. Blood spotted the creme-white carpets where Kay had been tossed and shoved around. Jake had been lucky enough to get a call from one of Kay’s friends. The two had been on the phone when her father came in screaming, she heard the first thuds of heavy fists, and immediately hung up.

Everyone knew Jake was bound to do something, and that calling the cops only made things worse in the long run. What they didn’t know, and few did in fact, was Jake’s proficiency with his .45. He’d spent months at the range, learning pin-point accuracy shooting at every range. He’d also learned to control his adrenaline through street-fighting, and had a morbid fascination with human anatomy.

The only thing that kept him from driving the Camaro through the front room was the fact that he’d still need it afterward. Instead, he kicked the door in off its hinges. The .45 was up and aimed straight on the old man. The snake-faced monster was poised over Kay. She lie, sprawled on the floor in her sundress, hands and feet covered in blood.

Her father actually had the gall to bark orders at Jake. He didn’t sway. His voice was calm, firm. He kept his gun and eyes level on her father, “Kay get off the floor. Get in the car.”

“Move and I’ll break your neck!” He spat at her. Jake repeated himself calmly, feeling adrenaline flood him. Her father spat again, made a move, “Son of a–”

The .45 cracked. The aim was perfect. The bullet whizzed past his left ear, close enough for a friction burn. He recoiled with a yelp. Kay skittered toward Jake. She rocketed out the door and into the street, climbing into the car.

“I could’ve killed you,” Jake said simply, unmoving. “I will if you follow me.”

The old man gave a roar, and moved to lunge. The gun angled down. Two rounds blasted his kneecaps. He fell in screaming pain. Jake lowered the gun as the monster howled and screamed pain and obscenities. He gave a final look to Kay’s mother, who stood slack-jawed to one side of the room.

“I wasn’t kidding. If he follows me, I’ll kill him,” he said, turning for the door.

Over his screaming pain, her mother called, “Take care of her.”

He stepped for the door, hesitated just before it. His head cocked a little to the side as if to speak, but he had no words. He started forward again. A few moments later, sirens screamed nearby as the Camaro’s engine revved. It’s tires squealed and it tore away from the house.

Since then they’d been driving, only stopping long enough to refuel, sleep, or fuck. They finished together; she threw back his semen like a pill and he sucked his fingers dry. She sat up with a smile, leaned against the passenger door. The bruise on her cheek was just beginning to yellow, but the light played off her face with an angelic glow, accenting her blonde hair with bright highlights.

“How was it?”

She threw back her head with a laugh, giddy from her newfound freedom, “Magnificent.”

He laughed with her.

They didn’t know what the fallout back home was, or if there would be any. For all they knew, they were fugitives, but something in Kay’s mother had told Jake she wasn’t going to make a case of it. Who knows, maybe he’d liberated her too, or opened the door for her to do it herself. Personally, he didn’t give a damn. He had Kay, she had him, and they had the car with nothing but an open road and a horizon of pastels ahead. Most of all though, they had life.

That was more than enough for anyone.

Bonus Short Story: Indifferent Reactions

Marcus Emerson was one of the shy, introverted types that found few friends in school, even fewer through life. He was often bullied; both for his small, lanky size and his brainy smarts that regularly netted him high grades and the title of teacher’s pet. In truth, Marcus wasn’t a teacher’s pet. He wasn’t even much of a student. Most things of the academic nature came naturally to him, more instinct than nose-to-book study and grind. Nowhere was his natural prowess more obvious however, than the high-school chemistry lab.

There was something about the bonds of molecular structures that filled his lonely, longing heart with more excitement and intrigue than anything else he ever encountered. Perhaps it was their inability to truly break, but rather evolve, change over time to more. Chemistry was as much a metaphor for life to the teenage-recluse as it was its sole motivator. Where most kids his age worked for their first car, he made his first bout of cash to put toward a proper chemistry set. Then, with a constant income, he procured more and more chemicals and building blocks for his experiments.

It was not difficult to see how the boy might easily come to harm were he not careful, but he always was. He wore the proper safety suit of a lab-coat, rubber gloves, and goggles that did little to help his already-afflicted fashion sense. Day and night were spent in his parents garage at his father’s commandeered workbench. Across it were Marcus’ tools of trade and pass-time. Half-full Griffin beakers and Erlenmeyer Flasks were scattered where there weren’t racked test-tubes, droppers, burners or coiled tubing. Always to one side, was a sheet of paper of chicken-scratch formulas that gave all the more confusion to the Chemistry-genius’ ambitions and plans.

It was no surprise then, that Marcus became head of his chemistry-class in high-school. Finally he embraced the title of teacher’s pet and aided in demonstrative experiments. Before long, he took over the class, his teacher proud not to be capable of an edge-wise word. His appeal to classmates couldn’t stoop much lower by then. All it took were the needs of one, rather stubborn and more than occasionally disingenuous boy named Micheal for the seeds of tragedy to be planted.

Mike was a polar opposite to Marcus; a kind of ne’er do well that did nothing well anyhow. He was failing all of his classes, except the one with the teacher’s-aide he was dating. There was little doubt she’d changed his grades. It was said he had other, similar plans in the works for the rest of his classes. Marcus had heard all the rumors, knew something of the drug and sex-crazed kid that sought him out. Unfortunately, ever the social outcast, Marcus’ thirst for companionship was nonetheless unquenched when Mike approached him.

Marcus was at the edge of the high-school’s property, just past its football field, when Mike hailed him across the road. As was his way, Marcus approached with a feeble resistance and more than a gut-full of resignation. Mike needed help, he said with a little begging. He was going to fail chemistry, and with it, high-school altogether. It was enough to arouse Marcus’ sympathy. He’d never been hard of heart, least of all when his help was needed. If only he’d known what Mike’s real plans were, and where they’d eventually put him, he might have been more callous.

Instead, with a slow and insidious way, Mike used Marcus. First, to help write out his homework, the answers manipulated from the learned peer with blank stares and calculatedly-blunt self-flagellation. Then came the corrections and fully-written work by Marcus alone. Soon enough, Mike’s passing grade in Chemistry was as assured as his bad-boy-loving girlfriend’s Geometry class.

A single conversation between the two boys in the garage should have been enough for Marcus to spot Mike’s true intentions. Such was Marcus’ naivete that he couldn’t see the conversation for what it was. The two stood over a round of Hydrochloric Acid experiments that involved observing its effects on various materials– plastics, metals, rubber and the like. They wore respirators for safety’s sake, their voices muffled.
“Haven’t you ever thought about making stuff to sell on this thing?” Mike said innocuously.

Marcus was focused on his work, “I don’t make things here, Mike. At least nothing you could sell– what would there be to make and sell anyhow?”

“I dunno,” Mike lied sheepishly. He preempted the planting of a sinister seed with friendly laugh, “We could always make drugs. That’d be something to sell.”

Marcus snorted into his respirator, poured the contents of one test-tube into another. Perhaps if he were more socially versed, or slightly less-trusting, he’d have seen that playful banter for what it was; the feeling out from a juvenile reprobate ready to take his illicitness to the next level. Whom better to use for that next step than the easily-manipulated loner and chemistry-wunderkind that was Marcus Emerson? No-one would ever suspect someone like Marcus. He was a good kid, well-liked by adults.

It was the perfect plan, Mike knew, he bore all the risk as the bad-seed, could easily hide the worst of his wrong doings by deflecting with Marcus’ presence alone– the mentor to Michael’s apprentice. All he needed was Marcus’ compliance and ultra-powerful brains, and they’d be rolling in dough and dope.

In the scheme of things, it didn’t take long to convince Marcus to try it. Like all great snakes, he played on the boy’s curiosity and before long had his mouth watering for results.

“It’s not like we’re hurting anyone, Mark,” Mike said with his usual, pleading way. “We just gotta’ see if we can actually do it.”

“You swear this won’t get out?” Marcus asked, less concerned than he came across.

“Hand to God,” Mike said as he raised a hand.

“I mean it, Mike, if anyone finds out we–” he lowered his voice severely. “– made crack in my garage, the whole county’s going to come down on us.”

“I would never do that,” Mike assured him with a hefty lie.

To his credit, Mike didn’t tell anyone for the first week. It was purposeful; he needed to feel out the neighborhoods, find which ones were frequented by junkies. Then, with “samples” from Marcus’ trash-can, he made a thick of wad of cash he later taunted Marcus with. The promise of money lit in the boys eyes. After all, why wouldn’t it? He was only doing as he’d been taught– using his inherent skills for money– or at least that’s what Mike assured him.

No matter what way Marcus rationalized it, his state of mind decayed quickly. Before long, he was doing nothing more than slogging through classes to get home and whip up more batches of his new cash-cow. Mike did the running, left the boy alone to the cat-piss stench consuming the garage. His parents had long ago learned not to enter the den of chemical experiments, their senses one too many times assaulted by its innards.

Then, as with all tragic figures, Marcus fell to the vise he so casually created.

In the midst of a lonely bout of depression, spurred both my Mike’s obvious abuse and Marcus’ own, lack of sleep and nourishment, the boy vaporized a rock in a test-tube and inhaled its fumes. His world spun with euphoria until he fell over dizzy, vomited on the floor.

Over the next few weeks, he kept his pass-time hidden. Granted, the signs were there, especially to Mike whom noticed the dwindling supply to feed his dope-hungry clients. He was wild, entered the garage as usual, found Marcus hunched over a heated test-tube and huffing its fumes.

“What the–” he yanked the hot tube from Marcus, looked it over, burned his hand, then dropped it. The tube shattered on the floor. Mike’s eyes lit with rage. “God damn it, Mark. I fucking told you! I told you, don’t get high on your own supply. That’s how you fucking get caught. ‘Cause you fuck up.” He pulled Marcus up from the floor, his eyes still dazed, shoved him backward across the garage. “Didn’t I fucking tell you? You fucking loser! Screwing me over.” He spit venom as Marcus landed with a crash against the work bench, “You fuckin’ loser. You fuckin’ cheat!”

Mike fumed, released his anger the only way he knew. He left Marcus in a heap on the floor, bloody, bruised and broken, and stole the last of the drugs around for a sale. The boy wasn’t sure how long he lie their, half-dead, half-high, but it eventually prompted a search for him. He was immediately rushed to a hospital. His addiction was discovered, and preceded weeks spent getting clean and healing fully from the beating he’d continually blamed on a fall.

But Mike grew more paranoid, as addicted to cash and the rush of slinging rocks as others were to smoking them. Without Marcus at his side, he was forced into hiding, running from Junkies that needed their fix and pestered him relentlessly. Just as Mike was hitting his own bottom, Marcus was in recovery, finally able to walk again.

It was late in the evening when the two finally met again, outside an addiction recovery center Marcus had been court-ordered to attend. He didn’t mind. He’d found new friends. Real ones– however admittedly older than himself. They knew the perils of addiction and loneliness as he did. Mike on the other hand, knew only the paranoid terror that comes from having one’s deepest, darkest secrets known.

Mike was haggard; hair wild, face soot-blackened, and stinking of whiskey, “Marcus!”

The boy turned at the shout, saw the shambling figure, “Mike?”

He entered the light that shone through the doors of the recovery center, within arms reach of Marcus, demanded an answer, “You kept my name out, right!?”

“Of course, Mike, I’d never do that to you,” Marcus said earnestly.

Mike knew nothing of sincerity, trust, nor friendship. He didn’t believe him, “Bullshit.”

He launched himself at Marcus, shanked his gut with a shattered bottle. A large, middle-aged black man that had taken a liking to Marcus’ smarts– and saw enough of himself in the boy to sponsor him as a former addict– appeared at the door. Before he could react, Mike was disarmed, on the ground, pinned by the grieving giant. A crowd formed to phone the police and ambulance, apply pressure to Marcus’ wounds.

He died in his hospital bed, seventeen and lost too young with a corrupted innocence. Michael was taken to prison for murder without chance of parole, for life.

Many might seek a moral to the tale the two boys’ lives have formed. There are few, but not one seeks to place blame. It is neither boy’s fault to have been children, playing with adult toys and ideas, and too immature to know better. Morally, they cannot be blamed. Nor can Marcus’ parents, whom believed their son, like always, was teaching and bettering himself with the help of a new friend. Not even the oblivious school-teachers, administrators, or peers for their disregard of obvious signs, can be blamed. Though a case could be made against, Michael’s own, abusive and neglectful parents, such arguments are moot. Both boys were the sole masters of their lives, destined or not, to helm it toward tragedy.

Perhaps the only true entities at fault are those of the collective effects of loneliness, curiosity, and the lust for companionship. Even if that were true, they could hardly be blamed either. They are but mere fragments, indifferent reactions from a solution of human-consciousness and the human condition ne’er to be properly controlled.