From Duality by Elle Casey
My name is Malcolm. For as long as I can remember I’ve brought nothing but misery to those around me. Pain. Sadness. A loneliness so bone-deep it smothers any thoughts of joy or hope that might try to seep in from reality.
I don’t do this on purpose. In fact, I’d do anything to change it, this effect I have on people. Some kids might think they want to be an agent of darkness, so they dress up in black clothes and dye their hair and do drastic things to their wardrobes, shocking people with their angry, outlandish attitudes. But if they were to walk a day in my shoes, they’d change their minds in a second. They’d join the Latin club and study hard and do everything they could to make their parents proud. No one truly wants to be me; they just think they do.
I call myself that – the agent of darkness – but I don’t really know what I am or what my problem is. What I do know is that it’s real and it’s nothing I can control …
…I’m just Rae. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve had this problem. It follows me everywhere like a faithful dog at my heels. People who get near me become happy. Too happy. They become so full of joy, they eventually get to the point that they can’t not be around me. And in their need to be close, they get too close. They smother me. They scare me. They become a danger to everyone.
Or at least, that’s what my dad thinks. The problem is, he suffers as much as the strangers do from the effects of being in my presence. He thinks he’s just being a protective, loving father, but I know the truth. He’s under my thrall. He can’t be without me, just like my mom can’t. Just like the kids at my last school and the one before it and the one before that one…
The only thing keeping my parents from homeschooling me on an island in the middle of nowhere is my threat that I’ll leave them. It’s a threat I have to reissue every time they pull me from another school. Eight times in the last three years, I’ve stared my parents in the face and warned, “If you don’t enroll me in a public school somewhere, I’m going to disappear and you’ll never see me again. Ever.”
And so they enroll me, because they have no choice.
Neither of them wants me to leave. In fact, they both believe they’d die if I ever did. It’s been a burden of mine that I’ve been unable to shake, try as I might, since I was old enough to understand what was going on. I hate to say this even just to myself, but one of these days, I am going to leave. I’m going to disappear forever and never look back.
From Three Wishes by Juli Alexander
My brother shrugged. “That was before we found Leo.”
“Leo?” I’d never met anybody named Leo before. It wasn’t something your mother chose, unless she was in love with Leo Dicaprio. Leo was a name you chose to call yourself if you wanted to be cool. He was probably Leonard. Leonard was not cool.
“Dylan found him. He’s great.”
I crossed my arms over my chest as I looked over at the guy. Dylan and Derek were obviously distracting him so Ian could run interference with me. Leo had a broader, more mature frame than the other guys. From the back, I’d have guessed he was older. He turned as if feeling my gaze.
Oh, yeah. He looked good from the front too. Masculine was the word that came to mind. Dangerous. The slight shadow on his jaw indicated that unlike my brother, Leo had to shave every day. He wasn’t high school hot. He was college hot. My pulse jumped despite my dislike for the guy.
I took a step in his direction, determined to get to the bottom of this. How had he shown up out of the blue at just the right time to steal my drummer gig?
His eyes met mine and I froze in mid step. His blue eyes held a flash of green glow in their depths. Just like the glow in my green eyes.
Leo wasn’t just another drummer. He was another genie.
My first thought was to tell my brother and have him toss Leo out on his rear end. Ian couldn’t see the telltale glow in Leo’s eyes because Ian wasn’t a genie. Despite being a jerk about the Armpit Hostages, Ian would do anything to protect me. But before I could make a move, Leo walked over to me. He held out his hand to shake mine as if being all polite.
I took his hand and heat shot through me. Was that a jolt of genie power? I probably shouldn’t have touched him. Hopefully our contact hadn’t set off any alarms at the U.N.I.V.E.R.S.E. headquarters. I knew next to nothing about safeguards against genie fraternization.
In a disturbingly deep voice, he murmured, “Give me a chance. Meet me in the backyard after practice. I’ll explain everything.” Then he looked me straight in the eyes and the glow expanded as he said, “It’s life or death.”
I knew I was being a fool to let him distract me, but somehow I couldn’t help it. This guy hadn’t risked going to the house of a female genie just to play alternative rock in my brother’s band. I couldn’t imagine what had brought him here, and I was dying to know.
From Atlantis Riptide by Allie Burton
The sea otter twirled around behind me. His cold snout bumped me on the back.
“Are you trying to tell me something?” The question sounded so stupid leaving my tongue. I’m mean, come on, talking to an animal?
He swam back in front and nodded his head up and down. Yes.
I reeled back and caught my breath. I was talking to a sea otter.
The otter ducked under and swam around me in a circle. Then, he lay on his back and used his paw in a “come here” motion.
I ducked under and swam in a circle around him. He circled again, and so did I. We were swimming in a constant figure-eight pattern under the water.
Unbelievable. I was playing with a sea otter. My spirits soared. My smile widened. Like being a five-year-old at a playground, I’d made my first real friend.
Not that the otter was a human friend, but it counted. Didn’t it?
Following for a bit, I stopped when I realized he headed to shore. “I don’t want to go back yet.” I wasn’t ready to leave the comfort of the water and return to my lonely tent.
The sea otter shook his head fast in an agitated motion. Even his furry face appeared upset.
“Can’t we play longer?” I remembered reading about sea otters and how they played. Slipping and sliding and diving. Turning and twisting underwater, kind of like I’d done earlier.
He did the “follow me” motion again. Then his eyes grew wide and his whiskers twitched.
I twisted around, but saw nothing. The fog had rolled closer to shore, but the stars and the moon still gave off a little light. A small motor boat sounded in the distance.
I faced him again. “What’s wrong?”
The sea otter was gone. My furry friend had left me.
An ache tore through my chest and I sniffed. “That’s okay. I’m used to being by myself.”
The water around me swirled. Waves gathered in a big circle, expanding out in further and further concentric loops. The pattern repeated with more strength and velocity. Like a toilet being flushed, the water pooled into a vortex.
My body caught in the current. I couldn’t move out of the circle, surrounded by a ring of water. My tummy churned with the motion. My gaze glazed over watching the water go round and round like a hypnotist’s trick.
A strange sensation sucked at my toes. The feeling continued up my legs to my hips. I kicked and clawed but the water tugged like a ginormous vacuum at the bottom of the ocean.
Panic spurted through me, exploding in my flaying arms and legs. I kicked. I stroked. I screamed. Nothing helped. My super strength wasn’t helping at all. I couldn’t fight this weird force.
I knew about the dangers of swimming alone. Knew about dangerous ocean currents. Knew the rules.
But they didn’t apply to me. I was different.
And so was this force that had me in its grip.
My heart began a pointless race against disaster. None of my other limbs could move. I couldn’t get free.
As I went down, I remembered dreams of being dragged under the ocean. The people in my dreams looked normal, nice. Not a faceless, evil suction. Terror froze every one of my muscles. I couldn’t struggle, couldn’t swim, couldn’t even think.
Could this be a deadly riptide, or something even more ominous? Irony struck. How could I drown when I could breathe underwater?
Lash by L.G. Castillo
“Naomi, about what happened back there.” Lash took a step back and brushed a hand through his hair. “I, uh, I crossed a line that I shouldn’t have.”
“Oh.” She turned away. She should have known better. She was just a mission for him to accomplish.
“I got carried away in the heat of the moment.”
“Yeah, yeah. I get it.” She waved him off.
“We’re still friends, right?”
“Yeah…friends.” She could barely say the word. There was no expectation that they were or would ever be a couple in the romantic sense. She admitted that she liked him and being friends was a good thing. But why was it so painful?
Bear trotted to her, wagging her tail, and Naomi picked her up. Bear gazed at her with sad eyes, sensing her heartache and licked her hand.
The bed sank and Naomi felt him behind her. She couldn’t let him see her like this, like some love-struck teenage girl who just found out the quarterback of the football team only liked her as a friend. She had to be strong.
“Are you crying?”
She bowed her head glad the shadows hid her face. “No.” Good. Her voice sounded strong instead of the driveling mess she felt like.
“Let me see your face, Naomi.” He moved closer to her.
Bear barked, warning him to keep his distance.
He reached around her, brushing her arm as he patted Bear’s head. “Please.” His warm breath blew on her neck.
The tenderness in his voice tore at her and her eyes grew wet. She took a couple of breaths, calming herself before she spoke. “I get it. I’m a job for you, and you felt sorry for me.” She stroked Bear’s fur. “I’ll be fine.”
She took another deep breath, placed Bear on the floor, and took a pillow off the bed. She couldn’t stay in the same room with him. It was too much. She liked him better when he was being a smartass—that she could handle. She needed to get back to the bathroom to be alone. Maybe she could sleep in there. The bathtub didn’t look too bad in spite of the dark ring around it and the questionable green stuff on the walls.
Lash grasped her hand and she bit down on her lip, fighting back the strong feeling that bubbled up inside her. She felt herself weaken as she sank back down on the bed, keeping her head down. Don’t make me look at you. I’ll break if I do.
Gently, he placed a hand under her chin and lifted her face to his. His eyes swam with tenderness. She couldn’t hold back anymore and she closed her eyes.
“My beautiful Naomi. Please don’t cry.”
Soft lips pressed against her forehead and lingered, her breath caught at the heat of his touch. The roughness of his chin grazed her skin as he moved to her eyelid and kissed it and then to the other. Her chest rose and fell as his lips slid down to her cheek, her nose, and then the other side of her face, chasing away the tears.
His nose glided along her cheek and paused over her mouth, hovering, his frantic breath lingering with hers. She was afraid to open her eyes. Afraid of what she’d see when she looked at him. Then his voice, so soft, as if he was speaking from inside her mind, whispered, “Naomi.”
She opened her eyes and her breath hitched at the raw emotion on his face. The wall he kept around his soul, his true self, disappeared. This was the real Lash—vulnerable, sweet and passionate. She couldn’t deny the truth that was sitting in front of her, tugging at her, consuming her. She loved him.
“Fight me.” His voice rasped as a hand swept over her hair. “I shouldn’t be doing this. I don’t want to hurt you.”
His words warred with the longing on his face. He wanted her as much as she wanted him. Then she realized what he was asking of her. He was an angel. He was on his way home. After tonight, she would never see him again. The thought crushed her. In the back of her mind, she knew there would be an end. He couldn’t be with her forever. The end was soon, and this may be their last time together. Tonight, she’d follow her heart, even if it meant her heart, her soul, would be left bleeding in the end. If all they had was one night, one moment—she’d take it.
“You won’t.” She leaned in, her mouth brushing lightly over his lips.
He quivered. “I can’t stop myself anymore.”
The Emerald Talisman by Brenda Pandos
Darkness enveloped me as I forged deeper into the woods. I tried to keep my thoughts light and happy as my heart pumped a little faster. The setting could have been a scene right out of a horror movie, a genre which I faithfully avoided. I knew one day I’d be in a similar harmless scenario that would only terrify me by fueling my over-active imagination.
On the other hand, walking with someone, like a cute boy, would make this whole scary ordeal into a romantic dream. I shifted my focus to imagine myself walking hand in hand with him. Maybe he’d stop, look into my eyes and I’d get my first kiss.
The rustle of a fern next to me broke my happy thoughts. I froze, stopping in the middle of the trail. With wide eyes, I searched for the source. I held my breath, straining to listen for what seemed like an eternity, as the noise of pounding blood filled my ears. I was ready to run if something jumped out at me.
Nothing happened, so I took a little step sideways. Still nothing, so I tried another step. Something launched itself out of the bush towards me. I shrieked and shielded my eyes as it flew by my face.
My legs folded underneath me and I balled my arms around my head. The last thing I wanted was a bat or some flying insect to nest in my hair. The air couldn’t come into my lungs fast enough as I tried calming myself down, suspecting every second I remained in this panicked state, precious years were coming off the end of my life. I listened and heard nothing further.
Mentally, I encouraged my legs to straighten, but they were still frozen and starting to shake. My effort to soothe myself wasn’t working. I took a few more deep breaths.
You’re just being paranoid. You’re alone and you know it. Nothing in this forest can harm you. Just get home.
My thoughts comforted me; my heartbeats subsided to a normal rhythm in response. I opened my eyes to focus on my surroundings. The cricket’s soft chirping encouraged me to stand up and keep going. The walk home was really no big deal. I knew this path by heart. Ahead was the suspended foot bridge that spanned the creek and I’d be home.
Courage replaced fear as I stood up, dusted myself off and spotted the bridge’s lantern through the trees gently swaying in the breeze. It softly beckoned to me, welcoming me in the darkness.
Over time, the creek’s erosion created a large ravine that wrapped around the great redwoods of the forest. The cliff sides were covered with ferns, ivy and moss, making perfect homes for little birds and other animals—the same animals that were scaring the living daylights out of me.
“If you don’t bother me, I won’t bother you,” I whispered.
I gently stepped onto the time-weathered bridge, causing it to shudder and creak. The last thing I needed was my presence alerted. I tried my hardest to keep my shoes quiet as I walked across, but it still moaned in protest.
Between the wood slats, I could see the moon brightly reflecting off the water’s edge, rippling brilliantly in the current. The gentle flow of the stream echoed in the caverns, softening the noises I made. But when the wind picked up and ruffled the ferns, it swayed the massive bridge.
My heart began to beat faster as the bridge loudly groaned under the wind’s strain. Fear took over as I bolted the rest of the way across, panting for air on the other side. An animal, startled by my sudden wild movements, scurried into the brush. I jumped.
It’s just another animal, Julia—don’t freak out!
Static by Tawny Stokes
Coming out of a strange and eerie dream that I couldn’t quite remember, I rolled over onto my side to try and get comfortable. Once Chloe left at around nine, I fell asleep and I’d been in and out of consciousness ever since. I think my mom checked up on me when she got home from work, but I couldn’t be sure.
Unable to get truly comfortable I’d been tossing off the covers and rolling up into them alternatively. I didn’t know whether I was hot or cold.
Now, I was definitely cold. Not wanting to open my eyes, I reached blindly for the covers. If I dared open them then I might consider staying awake. Being awake meant thinking, and I really didn’t want to do much of that any time soon. Yet, I couldn’t find the damn covers.
Slitting my eyes to half-mast, I raised my head to search for the covers. But they were long gone.
About eight feet below me.
Gasping for breath, I tried to dig my fingers into the ceiling stucco. Anything to anchor me. My heart pounded in my chest and I was dizzy and light-headed. I wasn’t one for heights. Vertigo settled in, and it looked like the room was spinning in a circle below me.
“OhmyGod. OhmyGod. OhmyGod,” I chanted over and over again hoping that somehow it would save me from the harsh reality that I was stuck on the ceiling and not tucked safely into my bed on the ground.
Although technically, I wasn’t stuck. I could move.
Carefully turning onto my stomach, I reached for the light fixture. My fingertips just brushed it. Taking a deep breath, I sort of bounced/shimmied across the ceiling to get closer to the light.
Thankfully, I didn’t sleep naked. I could just imagine how it would look if someone walked into my room and saw a naked girl stuck to the roof. I’m sure it wouldn’t be all that pretty of a sight. Well, maybe for a guy it would. Being seen in my tank tap and boy’s glow in the dark Sponge Bob boxer shorts was bad enough. Plus I imagined rubbing against the hard stucco on the ceiling wouldn’t feel all that pleasant on my body.
I grasped the light fixture in both hands and wondered how the hell I was going to get down. I had no idea how I got up here, or why, but really all that mattered was putting my two feet back onto solid ground. Everything else had to wait until that glorious thing happened.
I could call out for my mom, but I imagined she wouldn’t be too calm seeing her daughter floating along the ceiling. Besides that, she’d definitely take me back to the doctors. Since floating was definitely not on any symptom list of diseases known to man, going to the doctors wasn’t going to do me any good anyway.
No, this was something else. Something unnatural. Something even supernatural.
Images of actor Tobey Maguire crawling up a brick wall in the first Spiderman movie came to mind. I lifted my hand and inspected my fingertips for tiny barbed hairs. Although I had no delusions of grandeur of becoming a superhero, I pondered the notion that maybe I’d been infected with something noxious or alien. But then that just spawned images of zombies running through London streets circa the movie 28 Days Later. It was a stupid notion.
Yet, I had died earlier this week.