Sci-Fi Spring 2021 Youth Writing Contest Winner "What Was Forgotten"

Sci-Fi Spring Writing Contest
Julieta V.
5
Sep 15, 2021

Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that Julieta V. has won first place in the middle age group for the Sci-Fi Spring 2021 Youth Writing Contest with her piece "What Was Forgotten."

Julieta A. Vera has unruly hair and is well known for her phrase, “We’re alive and good! We’re FINE!” Her favorite book series is ‘Keeper of the Lost Cities,’ which she highly recommends!

While a book lover, she climbs trees uses nothing on her feet, and tends to nag everyone (especially her little sister) into doing fun and adventurous stuff on a daily basis—which lead to multiple injuries. Ever since she heard the words, “laughter is the best medicine,” her subconscious brain took it a little too literally—and so now, every time she gets hurt on a small scale, she laughs an unsettling laugh (approved by her Mom). She mows the grass and takes care of dogs as summer jobs.

She is working towards becoming an author, with a billion buzzing ideas on what to write next.

 

The memories came crashing down on Sila like rocks. Erased memories.

Before the old man and the girl, who looked as clueless as she felt, came knocking on her door, Sila lived a normal life, or as normal is it got with Covid out.

She fell back a step into someone’s arms, but she couldn’t tell who.

Memories had always ached, but never physically. Old headaches surfaced and cuts and punches lost in the past seemed fresh.

Now she understood why they’d taken them. To protect her. The man had even warned her. “This isn’t going to be easy, children,” he said. But something in his mismatched eyes told her that she had to do it. That there was something she was missing.

Sila’s eyes rolled back as flashbacks filled her head.

*****

Five-year-old Sila rocked herself in the little house in the furthest corner of the playground. Kindergarten was worse than she’d imagined. The kids were louder than she’d expected. Maybe to someone else, the noise was insignificant, but to her, it was painful.

She had told her mother, but with a wave of her hand, she dismissed it, calling Sila a baby. That wasn’t so bad, considering how awful her mother could beat times. The chit-chatty women her mother was playing cards with were probably the only thing that saved her from a full-on attack, since her mother could put quite the show up to impress. She hadn’t even taken Sila to see a doctor. No. She’d rather jump off a cliff and break her neck before having to put up with the hospital bills and her super freak daughter.

Sila cupped her ears, trying to push the noise and the memories away.

“Are your ears hurting?” Sila tensed, squeezing her eyes shut and bracing for the words to hit hard, but they never did. She gasped as she opened one eye and found Timothy. Tim, they called him, though.

She wondered why she hadn’t heard him coming until she remembered how sometimes she got lost in her head and heard nothing. She’d have to come up with a name for that later.

Then she remembered how he mastered the voice tone that her teacher called ‘a whisper,’ the lowest voice level anyone had talked to her in. Usually, five-year-olds had trouble with that one.

“Are your ears in need of seeing the nurse?” Tim asked again, a little louder.

Sila’s shoulders tensed, the headaches he was hiding sharpening, but she whispered back, “No.”

“They seem like they’re hurting,” Tim whispered.

“Not when you whisper.” She lowered her hands off her ears.

Tim nodded, sitting by her and scooching closer. “Want to go to the swings?”

Sila considered this. The wind would muffle the noise. She said, “Okay. Can you push me, though? I don’t know how to swing. My mother never taught me how.”

“That’s okay. I can teach you!” he whispered excitedly. He got up, offering Sila a hand. “And your dad can too when you get home!”

She flinched at that. Her mother never talked about him around her. She heard her gossiping with her friends about prophecies and ‘weird dude who went on and on about future wars,’ but Sila understood not even half of what she meant. “I don’t have one,” she whispered, but Tim laughed too loudly to listen as he tugged her along.

“It’s simple!” Tim said, taking the two most isolated swings in the playground and offering her one. The noise was overwhelming without the house’s walls, but Sila took the swing anyway and sat, unsure of what to do. “You just do this...” Tim sat on his and pushed back with his legs, then tookthemofftheground.Inamatterofsecondshewasswinging.“Youseethetrick?” he shouted.

Sila tensed, but yelled, “Not really!”

Tim slowed his swing to a stop, a frown on his face. He walked up to Sila, tilting his head as he studied her. “I know!” he said. “Oh, right,” he whispered when she tightened the grip on her swing’s chains. “Sorry. Just look at my feet. It’s all in the legs!”

He jumped back on his swing and was so quick to gain speed and altitude, Sila almost missed watching his legs. She noticed how they bent as he swung back and stretched when he swung forward. When she was sure this was the key, she tried it out. “

Yeah!” Tim cheered as she swung alongside him. “You got it!”

Sila laughed, soaking in the feeling of the wind rippling through her hair.

“So?” Tim asked. “Like it?”

“Like it?” Sila said. “I love it! Thank you!”

“For what?” Tim asked and she heard the smile in his tone.

Sila giggled. She often forgot how she talked, and sometimes thought, beyond her years. How others were . . . normal. “For everything,” she said.

“That’s what friends do, silly,” Tim said. “No need to thank me.” Sila smiled. They swung until their hands were red and they were out of breath.

*****

“This is your best?” Sila’s mother shouted at seven-year-old Sila. She clutched the midterm report card so tightly that her lee nails cut through. Sila hadn’t seen what it said, but she didn’t need to. She was used to barely passing. “THIS?”

They had just arrived home after her parent-teacher conferences and what her teacher had said about her had enraged Sila’s mother. It didn’t help that she drank three bottles of root-beer, or that she was a professional in the arts of yelling.

“Why, you don’t want to be put for adoption, do you?” Sila’s mother yelled. Sila shook her head, sobbing. “Then would you like me to cut your ears off so you won’t wear those stupid earbuds in class and paid attention?” Her mother took out a knife from the kitchen drawer, closing in on Sila. “Cause I won’t have a freak for a daughter!”

Sila backed away, avoiding walls as best as she could. Her mother didn’t understand. Music, as well as zoning out, was the only thing she could come up with to cancel out the noise.

She thought of zoning out, but then she’d be at her mother’s mercy, and that wouldn’t go well. Maybe making a run for the door was better. No. She couldn’t afford to turn her back on her mother. Screaming for help didn’t seem like a good idea either. She would not only have to put up with the loud voices asking her questions, but also hurt herself to begin with. Besides, it wasn’t like anybody would help her in the middle of the night.

As she thought about this, she tripped on an empty bottle, landing rear-first on a second one. Shards of glass sank into her skin, blood spilling out.

She let out a scream, tears streaming, as her mother pulled her to her feet. She pointed the knife at Sila’s throat and yelled, “You clean that mess up, young lady! You hear me?” Then she pushed Sila back into the glass, ignoring Sila’s pleas for help when new shards sank into her knees. With that, Sila’s mother grabbed a new bottle of root-beer and left for her room, knife in hand and everything.

Sila cried silently in the dark of the kitchen, tending to her wounds before cleaning, not daring to utter a word.

*****
“Sila!”Tim whispered-shouted the next Monday as he saw her scars. “What happened?” When she looked away, he whispered, “Your mom again?” She tried to protest, but he shook his head. “You have to tell someone. I mean, someone besides me.” He hooked an arm around hers as they walked to class, taking long, slow steps.

Sila sighed. “This was a little tantrum.The bigger deal is coming.” She looked around making sure nobody was eavesdropping. She leaned in as she whispered, “I think she’s...taking pills that don’t do her any good.”

“You mean she’s on drugs,” Tim clarified, not missing a beat.

“I’m sorry,” Sila said, slipping her arm away from his. “I'm making it about me.” She pulled her shoulder-length hair over her eyes.

The thought of anyone doing a thing as horrible as that to themselves made her sick. Yes, her mother’s chit-chatty friends dared her to check it out, claiming it would solve all of her problems, but it made Sila’s life harder with her mother’s mood swings aggravating.

The bell rang, drowning Tim’s response and leaving a headache in its wake. It took several deep breaths to recover from the shock.

“Come on, goofball,” Sila whispered, taking Tim’s hand and dragging him along as she ran. “We’re gonna be late for class!” She hoped he would giggle, but Tim kept frowning.

Students running and lockers slamming made it hard to tell, but she thought she heard him say, “I wish I could be of more help. Like best friends are.”

*****

“Class?” Mrs. Odems said, standing at the front of the classroom. A tall, darkhaired girl stood by her.

The girl wore a hot pink dress and...was that lipstick? She looked cute and innocent, but she reminded Sila of her mother too much. This was exactly how she looked when she was around her teachers, how she’d probably act if Sila reported her to the police.

“Class!” Mrs. Odems shouted, clapping her hands. Sila bit back a wince at her classmate’s voices combined with the teacher’s.

“Thank you,” Mrs. Odems said when the last voice went off. “Now, class, I want you to meet Arleen, our new student. She just moved from New York and she’s going to need a friend. Who would like to sit by her?” At the mention of New York, all hands went up. That is, all except Sila and Tim’s. The girl‒Arleen‒didn’t look impressed.

“Let’s see...Sila!” Mrs. Odems announced. The entire class turned to see her at the back of the room. She looked down, plucking in her ear buds. She hoped Mrs. Odems would take the cue and choose someone else, but as usual, she didn’t. “Sila, there’s an empty seat by you.”

Sila prayed for someone to come by and interrupt. It was true, though. The other was occupied by Tim, who she could hear repeat “Please no, please no, please no,” under his breath.

“So why don’t you go sit by her?” Mrs. Odems told Arleen, her tone suggesting that this would be super exciting. Knowing Mrs. Odems, it wouldn’t.

Arleen nodded sweetly and skipped her way down the aisle, a grin on her face. As she settled into her seat, the school janitor poked his head through the door.

“Excuse me, Mrs. Odems,” he whispered, waving the teacher towards him. That was the first time Sila saw mismatched eyes on the man. “Have a minute?”

Mrs. Odems left the room, annoyance in her expression.

As soon as the door closed, the room erupted into chaos. Yet one voice dominated above the rest. Arleen stood on her chair and clapped to get everyone’s attention. Sila was sure Arleen caught her flinching. Then the girl, as if she’d always been the leader, started a speech with the words, “I’m betting this is going to be an interesting year . . .”

Sila sighed and turned her music all the way up, glancing at Arleen’s devilish smirk one last time before zoning out, like she always did on normal days.

*****

“Hey!” Tim said, slowing his swing to a stop. “I was starting to wonder if you’d ditch me!” He said it playfully, a smile on his face, but there was an edge to his tone.

“Why would I?” Ten-year-old Sila asked. “You said there would be swings and Oreos. How could I ditch that?” She plopped on the swing next to his, throwing her stuffed-till-it-explodes backpack aside.

His face relaxed, clearly relieved.

They arranged to meet at the park after school since Sila’s mother was sick, and with a bedridden mother, she felt absolutely free. Her mother hadn’t liked it, though.

She threw boxes of cigarettes, a nearby lamp, and even a bottle of wine, plus screamed the whole time. Sila managed to dodge most of the objects, but the bottle shattered as it hit her arm.

It hurt, like everything her mother did to her, but that would be the last, Sila decided.

Not wanting to be late, she barely scrubbed off the wine and threw on a clean T-shirt as she packed up most of her clothes into her schoolbag. Being in the state of ‘zoneout, autopilot,’ time sped by. Next thing she knew, she was standing at the front door, looking over her shoulder at her house.

Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed red trickled down her arm. After all she lived through, Sila had learned to forget about the pain, but looking at the cut the bottle had left, the pain throbbed back. She didn’t mind much. Overall, she knew how to forget and numb the area, but she was certain Tim would worry, so she made a quick run to the bathroom and fashioned a bandage out of toilet paper and tape. Then she was off.

“What’s the bag for?” Tim asked. “I don’t recall us talking about a sleepover.”

“You’re not wrong,” she told him. She let the silence stretch as they swung, while she picked her wording. “I read this book once,” she started, “where most of the characters had awful parents.” She swung harder. “A lot of them did the same thing to cope with it.” The wind blew hard, a break before having to say, “They ran away.”

“Please tell me you’re not actually considering doing that,” Tim said.

“What else could I do?”

“Tell the police.”

Sila shook her head. “With my mother in bed? They’re most likely to bring her flowers, not arrest her.” She hoped he’d laugh, but he sighed.

Maybe the book was a little exaggerated, with Greek gods and evil titans. And even if it weren’t, all those kids had a place with amazing food and friends waiting for them. She didn’t even have a roof to stay under.

“I don’t want to lose you, Sila,” Tim whispered. The helplessness in his voice was what truly brought her back to the present with a chill. “But I know how hard it is to live with her. So... I’ll support whatever you decide. Always.” She clearly saw him smiling, trying to look brave, but was that a tear? “That’s what best friends do.”

“Tim, I’m moving out of my mom’s house, not out of the country,” Sila said. She forced a cheery tone. It could have been relief or she had become really good at faking, but Tim’s smile widened.

“Oh, and why do you smell like wine?” he asked.

“What do I usually smell like?”

“Root-beer. Oh,” Tim said. He pointed at her falling-apart-bandage. “Makes sense.” He jumped off his swing making his way to his backpack and opening it, bringing out a pack of Oreos. “Want some?” She smiled as she sat by him. She gasped when he also brought out a small gift bag and passed it to her. “For you.”

“Gee, I-I don’t have anything for you,” Sila said.

“You are my best friend. That’s all I need.”

Sila smiled and dug her hand in, taking out . . .“A photo.”

“You don’t like it.” Tim said.

“No, no. I... I love it,” she whispered. She brushed a finger on the golden words at the top of it. ‘Best friends forever. Promise,’ it read.

“Oh my goodness, I remember this!” She said, smiling from ear to ear. It had been during his ninth birthday a year ago. They had gone for a picnic with his family and Tim’s dad took a picture of them. He was slightly in front of her, smiling from ear to ear, a birthday cone on his head. “I love it!” Sila said, hugging him. “Thank you!”

She noticed how red he turned when she let him go and she giggled a little. “There’s something else too,” he told her.

“Something else?” She shook her head. “Boy, Tim, I don’t deserve this.”

“Don’t be silly. You deserve it more than anybody. So? Gonna open it?” She reached in again, taking out a Yang bracelet. “I know it’s more of a girl thing, but necklaces seemed kind of a stretch,” he said. “I have one of my own.” He shook his hand, and a Yin bracelet jingled.

“It’s perfect,” Sila whispered. “Tim, I‒I don’t know what to say!” She put the bracelet on. “I’m never taking it off. Thank you!”

As she put the photo in her backpack, folding it in fourths and keeping it as intact as possible, a red racing car pulled up by the park and three figures got off it, two as tall as seventh graders, one about her size.

“Uh-oh,” Tim whispered. Sila got to her feet, helping him up as the figures drew closer, one with a baseball bat. His legs shook, and Sila didn’t blame him.

“Come on,” Sila whispered, taking his hand. “We better get out of here.” And so they ran, away from Arleen and her minions.

*****

“Get’em!” Arleen shouted.

Not three years had passed since she started attending their school and she already had the school’s two biggest bullies. At her service. Myles, professional baseball bat swinger and Derel, professional junior boxer. Sila wasn’t sure how old they were, but those two had to have repeated fifth grade three times now, because they were two head taller than her, not to mention bulky and muscular, perfect for tackling.

Sila ran alongside Tim, gasping for air. She wasn’t surprised they found them. This happened often, probably the reason they were in such good shape; so much so, they both were constantly recommended for the track team. Anyways, Arleen must have eavesdropped when they were planning to meet and stole her father’s car. Another thing that happened often.

“What’s the point in running, Cox?” Arleen shouted, calling Sila by her last name. Sila gritted her teeth, but kept running. She had to be stronger, forget about the fear bubbling in the pit of her stomach. “We got your stuff, Cox, and we both know you can’t go back now!”

The photo. Tim’s backpack. Her own. Sila slowed down.

“Don’t listen to her!” Tim said. He grabbed her arm and pulled her along.

“Oh, but do listen to me, Cox!” Arleen yelled. “You’ll fall for the trick like always! You’ll be driven away from your precious belongings and we’ll throw them in the lake! What will you do then, Cox?”

That’s when Sila’s legs stopped functioning. She tripped, bringing Tim down with her. Yet she didn’t get up like Tim, despite his bloody knees.

Her brain flooded with words, each syllable dragging her under, deeper. She tried to hide from them, but it was of no use. They hunted her.

“This is your best? THIS?”

“We’ll throw them in the lake!”

“What will you do then, Cox?”

But then other words rushed in, reminding her how selfish she was being, hiding when somebody needed her. Her Yang bracelet felt heavy upon her wrist.

“Don’t listen to her!”

“You got it!”

“I wish I could be of more help. Like best friends are.”

She took a deep breath as her mind rushed back to the present and...gasped. Derel had Tim’s hands on his back, both off to the side. Tim struggled and kicked, but he was no match for the boxer. Myles, on the other hand, had Sila pinned to the ground, her hands on her back too.

“Hear me, Cox?” Arleen yelled in her ear. She was bent, inches away from her.

Sila’s face was drenched in sweat and possible tears, but she still said, loud and clear, “Nope. Whatever you said, I. Don’t. Care. Just leave Tim out of this.”

“Is that what you want?” Arleen shouted. Sila let out a shriek in pain. Even Arleen knew about her sensitive hearing, and he didn’t waste a drop of it. “Is that it?” Arleen repeated, and fresh tears escaped her eyes. “Answer when I ask you something!”

“Yes,” she whimpered, the pulsing energy‒which might as well be confidence‒she had felt disappearing. “Yes, leave him alone.”

“No!” Tim yelled. “We go through this together, remember? Best friends?” Arleen grinned as she made her way towards him, putting a hand on his shoulder menacingly; the only reason Sila hadn’t blurted, “But best friends don’t put each other in danger!”

“Myles,” Arleen said, holding out her free hand. “The bat.”

“No!” Sila yelled. “Please, Arleen, this is crazy!” Myles passed her the bat reluctantly, probably because he was missing out on the fun of hitting people, but Arleen didn’t even hesitate.

“Sorry to disappoint, Cox,” she said, raising the bat over her shoulder. “But the greatest pain I can cause you isn’t by yelling.” Arleen glanced over, sending shivers down her spine. “It’s by hurting what you love most.”

She started swinging the bat, but she dropped it inches away from Tim's face. Sila didn’t know if what she heard was good or bad, but in the distance, police sirens screeched. Derel let go of Tim, but Myles held on to her.

Tim hurried to grab the bat, and Arleen surprisingly didn’t flinch. Neither of her minions made a move either. In fact, they smiled. The sirens were getting closer, maybe right around the corner. That’s when Sila understood what was happening.

“Wait!” she yelled, which should have caught his attention instantly, but he clutched the bat tighter, ready to hit Myles. “Tim, wait! It’s a trap!”

“Put your weapon down and hands where I can see them!” A voice yelled, and two police cars parked, four cops running out of them. With guns. Sila’s heart stopped.

Tim dropped the bat in shock. Myles put his hands in the air smiling. Sila didn’t dare move. Derel crossed his arms. And fake tears sprinkled Arleen's pale cheeks. To her surprise, the police handcuffed Tim and went to help Arleen first.

*****
“I’m sorry, Sila,” a voice whispered. Sila felt too tired to open her eyes, like she’d been awake all night. “I’m sorry I can only make them take you home. I’m sorry I can’t help you any further.” She felt a hand on her wrist. That’s when she opened her eyes for a second, a wrinkled face with mismatched eyes‒one green, the other brown, like her own‒looking at her. Were they inside a police car? And why did this old man feel so familiar? “I’m sorry,” he said before she closed her eyes again, drifting back to sleep. That was all she remembered before the field trip.

*****
Twelve-year-old Sila stood in front of the history museum’s doors with Tim and the rest of her seventh grade class minutes before her death. Before it all ended . . . and started up again.

“Now, class, I expect the absolute best of you,” Mrs. Hammersaw said, one hand on the door handle, the other lowering her glasses and staring over them with a look that said she already knew they were going to do the opposite. “And above else, please be respectful to the guide.”

Sila heard Myles snicker as a spitball flew right into Mrs.Hammersaw’s glasses. “Good one,” Arleen said, patting someone on the back. Probably Derel. Yep. Somehow, the bullies passed grades. Mrs. Hammersaw rolled her eyes, but said nothing as the class followed her in.

A grand fatherly man approached Mrs. Hammersaw, shook her hand, and turned to the class. “Children!” he said, and as if in a trance, the class stopped talking and faced him. “Well behaved, I see,” he praised, and Mrs. Hammersaw blushed. Sila looked at Tim, who was in between containing a laugh and looking disgusted, like he always was when adults flirted.

“Anyway,” the man said. “I’m Mr.Nigel, your guide for today. Follow me, children,” he said, waving them toward a staircase. Sila’s class followed in four neat rows, which spooked the soul out of Sila. “We’re starting with the top of the building!”

Unfortunately, Arleen was right behind her. “Is it just me,” she whispered, probably not to get much attention. “Or does Mr. Ridiculous look a lot like you, Cox?”

Tim, who was beside Sila, let his hands ball at the comment and he turned to Arleen, ready to punch her. Sila stopped him, though.

Arleen wasn’t completely wrong. The man wore shorts and flip flops, along with a long sleeved shirt and mittens, all coated with stars. And his eyes, one brown, like her own, one green. At this point, she wondered how rare the mismatched colors were. Still, the man she’d seen before had his eyes the other way around. Green, then brown. Plus, the man of the memory had blonde hair, while Mr. Nigel had red locks and some white streaks here and there. None like Sila’s light brown hair, a phenomenon among her mother’s black haired relatives.

Besides, Arleen was probably saying it as another way to call her a ‘wonko.’

“Children!” Mr. Nigel said, making Sila jump as she was dragged back to Earth. The class, surprisingly, went quiet. Even stranger was that they seemed eager to listen. They were out on the flat roof of the building, and if Sila leaned over the parapet, she estimated the fall would be about five stories down. “Now, everyone,” Mr. Nigel said. He pointed at cannons to the right and statues to the left. “Feel free to explore, but touch nothing. Some are quite old. If you’d like recommendations, I’m here. Off you go!”

Everyone went to the cannons section, but Arleen, Myles, Derel, Tim, and Sila stayed put. Mr. Nigel seemed like he wanted to talk with Sila for a second, but Myles jumped in and put his hands around both Tim and her, as if they were friends. “Not a word,” he whispered. “To the statues we go!”

Sila glanced at Tim as they shoved them. Her stomach did a flip as she saw his face. She wished he wouldn’t have to go through her pain. But then, out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw Mr. Nigel casually stalking them. She felt sorry for him, knowing that even if he caught them hurting her, Arleen would always find a way to come out innocent.

“Precious view, isn’t it?” Arleen said, interrupting her thoughts. They were at the edge of the too-short parapet. “What a pity it would be if you, oh I don’t know, fell.”

“You’re not gonna throw us over, thought, right?” Sila asked. She didn’t want Tim to hurt because of her. “You’re not that crazy, aren’t you?”

“She isn’t,” Myles agreed before Arleen could even open her mouth.

“But we are,” Derel said. He dug his nails into Arleen’s skin as he grabbed her.

“Wait!” Arleen wailed. “What are you doing, you maggots! We were just threatening them! We weren’t going to hurt them! We weren’t going to hurt me either! Can’t you understand simple orders?”

Myles snorted. “We don’t care about ‘orders.’ We don’t obey a scranny, little girl with no friends.”

“What do you have against us?” Tim asked. “Really, cause I don’t get it.”

“You don’t need to ‘get it.’” Derel said. “But know this: we were eliminating the problem before it was there. That’s why you’ll die.”

“Die?” The three shouted, while another voice called, “Children! Get away from there! It’s dangerous!”

“Oops! That’s our cue!” Myles said. Together they pushed Sila, Tim, and Arleen over the edge. Sila grabbed Tim’s hand, their bracelets connecting.

The last thing she saw was Mr. Nigel, fighting against Derel and Myles, who held him in place, making him watch all the way till Sila’s heart stopped.
*****
“I’m not supposed to be alive,” Sila muttered when her eyes rolled into place.

“I’m not supposed to be either,” another voice said, the person who caught her earlier. Sila’s hope was replaced by anger when the voice wasn’t Tim’s, but rather a girl’s.

She pushed away from Arleen, who looked genuinely terrified by the fact. The only thing stopping Sila from thwacking Arleen to her second death was a mittened hand on her shoulder.

“Now, children, take it easy,” a masculine voice said. “Sit.” Sila would have recognized the grandfatherly man patting the sofa any day, especially by his iconic phrase and brown, green eyes.

Arleen took the offer, but Sila refused. “Who are you?” she whispered. She might have gained confidence after everything she went through, the people who lost their lives because of her, but her sensitive hearing was still there. So was the Yang bracelet. She put a hand on it as she whispered, “Where’s Tim? And how are we alive?”

“Each question more complicated than the last, but let’s dive right in,”Mr. Nigel said, chuckling nervously. “Here goes nothing. I am not human, and neither are you.”

Arleen whistled. “At this point, I’m not surprised. Though, I’m guessing I’m plain human, then, since I don’t have sensitive hearing or a weird sense of fashion.”

“Unfortunately, no,” he said. “You are very much not-human as we are. From ancient bloodlines, perhaps, but nonetheless, not human. Or partially.”

“You’re saying we’re . . . aliens?” Sila asked.

“How else do you think you died and are alive?” he asked.“ How do you think we took your memories? Replaced them with fake ones?”

“Okay,” Sila said, dragging the word. She would have argued it was impossible if she had the energy, but the flashbacks drained her. She sat, knowing this wasn’t even the start of it.“But my mother, her family, they’re humans. A little too human if you ask me.”

“Yes, she was. Passed away from an overdose of those no-good pills,” Mr. Nigel said, lowering his head. “Your father, on the other hand, was half human. His mother was human, his father . . .”

Sila tasted bile on her tongue, feeling sick. “Your eye. It’s the same...You’re...my grandfather?” He nodded. “Where is he? Where’s my father?”

“He...passed away too, a year after you were born. Terrible battle against The Others,” he said.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Arleen said. “ What do you mean, The Others?”

Mr. Nigel sighed. “It’s easier to show you.” He first took off his mittens, showing three fingered hands covered in orange fur. Sila barely held back her scream. Then he took off his star covered shirt to show his entire upper body covered in more orange fur. He pointed at his eyes, and winked. His brown eye changed to green and his green one to brown.

“Okay, so your grandpa is an orange half monkey man,” Arleen said, patting Sila on the back. “Congratulations.”

“But that won’t happen to me, right?” Sila asked, ignoring Arleen. She pointed at his fur.

Mr. Nigel put his shirt on. “Since you're three quarters human, I’m guessing your hair will turn orange eventually. But other than that, no.”

Sila let out a breath in relief.

“Hold it! How does any of . . .this have to do with me?” Arleen asked. “

Might as well start with the beginning,” he said, plopping on the couch. He put his second finger on his chin. “There are five types of intelligent beings. Humans, Mentals, Emotionals, Physicals, and Times. Humans live in the Milkyway Galaxy, on Earth. We aren’t sure why, but the other species formulated in the Andromeda Galaxy, each with their own magnificent talents. For example, Mentals, that’s us, oranges, are experts in all mental work, as well as alternating memories or erasing them. Some families from this species have hypercasius, or sensitive hearing, that they can control. With practice, you’ll be able to turn on and off yours, Sila. Emotionals, or the purples, on the other hand, work with emotions. Physicals, or greens, with physical shape and are able to shapeshift. Humans...well, some think they are healers, others inventors, but nobody has a common-ground name for them. But Times, or greys, live on a small planet, and their numbers are small. They work with anything related with time. This includes seeing the future, present, and past, as well as issuing prophecies.

“The last prophecy was about a deadly virus causing a war and a child having to stop it. You died in 2016. Then you were ‘resurrected,’ as Arleen here put it, in 2021. You don’t know how hard it’s been. Sleepless nights wondering if we could bring you back and if we could on time. Anyway, we wanted to give you a bit of time getting used to living again before we told you about this, but then the vaccines went missing-”

“The vaccines are missing?” Sila asked. “How did you ‘resurrect’ us? Who is ‘we?’ Wouldn’t it take forever to travel from one Galaxy to another? Could I see that prophecy? Why are you so convinced it’s us? What type is Arleen? And where is Tim? He’s an ‘alien’ too, right? What type?”

“Let’s go one at a time, please,” Mr. Nigel said, rubbing his temples. “Yes, even the speed of light isn’t fast enough to make it alive from galaxy to galaxy. It would take 2.5 million years in light-years. That’s why the Times created wormholes, which make a sort of ‘portal.’ Covid got to our planets too because some of our explorers got it while on Earth. We don’t always understand humans, so we send people to observe them. We aren’t sure if we should share our existence with them yet, even though they created the only working Covid vaccine. Anyway, there are others who fall in love with good humans”‒he coughed as he said it‒ “and so we have families there. Leave legacies.”

“I don’t get how anyone would think my mother was ‘good,’” Sila muttered.

“She was an extraordinary woman. Pity she broke after your father told her. He thought she could handle it, but . . . some aren’t ready to accept such things,” Mr. Nigel said.

“Wait, slow down,” Arleen said. “That’s what you meant before? That I’m a legacy?”

“Yes,” Mr. Nigel said. “An Emotional. That’s why you found Sila’s weak emotional points without even trying, whether it was hurt or doubt, they were all emotions. It’s possible a few streaks your hair will turn purple, but your hair won’t change much. Your ‘friends,’ though, were Physicals. I think they sensed potential in you and wanted to throw you off balance.”

“Great,” Arleen said. “I was used. Anything else I should know about those good-for-nothing maggots?”

“That’s a topic for later. Let’s get back on track,” Mr. Nigel said, “Four representatives of the four Andromeda species get together and discuss issues when they stir. That is our sort of government. Sometimes they are very effective, sometimes they are not. When the prophecy was first introduced, the representatives didn’t know how to act. They made wrong decisions. That’s when groups formed. But the only two that made any action yet are us and The Others. Anyway, now isn’t the time to let you see the prophecy. As for how we resurrected you, we needed all species, except humans, to do it. A Physical to make your bodies, an Emotional so you could have emotions, a Mental to help with your brain and the memory process, and a Time to, um, . . . do their magic. Their talents are hard to master and even harder to understand.

“The thing is, while we were bringing you back, three men broke in and tried to steal you. All of you.” A lump formed in Sila’s throat. “We fought them off as best we could. They were losing until they realized we wouldn’t let them get to you specifically,”‒he glanced at Sila‒“And they knew you wouldn’t get along with her,”‒he turned to Arleen, and Sila couldn’t help wondering if he was using her as an excuse, away not to look at Sila when he finally said it‒“so they took Tim.”

Sila jumped to her feet, yelling, “How could you let them?” She squeezed her bracelet. “How could you let Tim get stolen?”

“We were ambushed, Sila,” Mr. Nigel said, and she noticed the slight helplessness in his voice. “You must understand, we didn’t mean for that to happen. And I suspect it was their second best bet. If they couldn’t get to you, he would be the next most powerful. I knew Tim had lots of potential since the day he saw you, but I didn’t realize how much.” He put a hand on Sila’s shoulder. “Tim is a Time. Even the name hinted it, but it was too random that I didn’t pay attention. The skills of a Time take practice, they aren’t natural like others, so an entire legacy could be hidden and we wouldn’t even know. Whoever decided upon his name must have felt a sensation, like it was the right one. Times’ natural instincts. And since their hairs change to grey and they could have any kind of color hair, well .. .”

Sila blinked hard. She didn’t care what Time’s talents were. She just needed to know,“Where’s he now?”

Mr. Nigel shook his head. “We don’t know.” Sila gritted her teeth. “Despite the loss, we tried to get you into a normal life. What you lived today and yesterday was real. Yet, in that time, The Others made their move. They stole the vaccines.” Mr. Nigel hesitated. “And gave Tim fake memories. Memories to set him up against you.”

A tear escaped Sila’s eye. “So what am I supposed to do?”

“You mean, ‘we are supposed to do,’ right?” Arleen asked. “Look, it seems like the world is ending, there’s war and aliens out there, fighting over medicine, and we somehow got the power to stop it. Besides, one thing that ‘The Others,’”‒she glared at Mr. Nigel as if to say, you should have come up with a better name‒ “didn’t take in account that you would fight triple as hard with Tim on the line.” She put a hand on her shoulder. “Right?” Sila looked away.

Arleen sighed. “I know I’ll never replace him. I know the damage I caused you. I...kind of sensed it. But I’ll make it up to you. Promise. Please, Sila. Friends don’t abandon each other.”

Sila started to really hate how good Arleen was at hitting her in her low points. But...she was right. All the madness she had gone through, all the dying and living, all the cuts and punches, headaches and loud noises. They happened for a reason. And now Tim. She wasn’t going to hide anymore. No more zoning out. She would train her talent, hope the change of color didn’t happen anytime soon, and save Tim and the world. She dug into her pocket, surprisingly bringing out the photo Tim had given her. She would fight to get those kinds of moments back.

“What about the missing memories?” she asked, making sure they would be returned.

“There are things from your past that you aren’t ready for. All I can promise is that we’ll give them back eventually,” Mr. Nigel said, which was so not the answer she had hoped for, but it was a start.

She glanced at the photo one last time for reassurance. She still didn’t think of Mr. Nigel as her grandfather, but she tried it out. “This is going to be crazy but, grandpa, let's do this!”

Written by Heather Mi.

70% of people sign their dog’s name on their greeting cards. I am one of these people.

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