I awoke to the sound of beeping. White. Everything was white. And...crying? Then clearer—someone weeping in the corner, someone...familiar. A lady wearing white comforted her.
"I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do. She's braindead."
Poor woman. I tried to sit up to comfort her, but...nothing's moving. I felt cold as realization struck me.
The nurse ushered Mom out, then walked towards me. I desperately tried making eye contact, telling her I wasn't braindead, but she wouldn't look at me. A wild fear built up inside of me. Stop!
She pulled a plug from the wall, and everything went black.
two of you
i want to trust you
i always did
but you've done things
i can't forget.
you say you're sorry
and you seem sorry
you don't seem like
you'd do it again,
but then again
you've never seemed like
you'd do it
in the first place,
until you did.
so how do i know
this time is different?
is it bad to say
i still love you?
after all the shit you've done
that can't be undone
you say you're sorry
and i believe you
maybe i'm naive
maybe i want to believe
is it bad to say
i'm grieving too?
because the you
i thought i knew
there's two of you
in my mind:
the one i loved
and thought was kind,
and the one who's
yeah there's two of you
and i don't know
is really you.
it feels like there's two sides
and no in between.
the other side is evil
don't agree with them
you can only condemn
you can't convince someone
you convince someone
admitting you're wrong
doesn't make you look dumb
it shows you're mature
so stop being so defensive.
god, i am sick
i am so, so sick
of these assumptions
and straw man arguments
people on the internet
just preach to the choir.
they make videos
about the other side
but not for the other side
meant for their own side
to point and laugh at.
don't you realize:
you're fueling the divide?
then the other side
sees your videos
the hatred grows
beliefs that you are evil.
and maybe we can mend,
maybe we can end
the fight that tears apart families
that tears apart our nation
as a whole.
i got my test scores back.
turns out i'm in the top five percent.
but not the top one.
not the top one.
it's not a contest
if my best is not
the best of the best
what am i even doing here?
i know some people
didn't even try
but i, i tried
and i messed up.
i'm not used to this
it's not supposed to be hard
it's never been hard
on all days
been the best
of the rest,
but not today.
simply "better than average" is not enough
i need to be the best
i think i'd die
i really am trying.
they just have to believe me.
i put in the hours
i put in the work
but this class
is too fast
i always been
the worst one
i'm so dumb
i'm so done.
they just shrug me off
and call me stupid
but no one stops to think,
when i fail,
what if you did?
i'm tired of
just barely getting by
god, i'd kill to be
“Jenna turned forty earlier today,” Mom told me as I sat down across from her at the dinner table.
“I’m sorry,” I murmured, pickup up my fork and playing with my food. We had spaghetti, again, but I couldn’t blame Mom. She always made spaghetti when she was tired. I had never met Jenna—my existence had to be kept a secret from everyone—but I knew she was Mom’s best friend since childhood.
Anya skipped into the dining room and sat in the chair next to mine. She was only seven years old, which meant she was even more illegal than me, a fifteen year old. She frowned as she saw both of our somber faces. “What happened?”
“Jenna turned forty,” I explained, trying not to remind myself who else would be turning forty soon.
Mom looked up at Anya, her silky white hair gleaming in the harsh light above us. “My friend.”
“Your friend? Why would you make friends with someone so much older than you?” Anya shoved a heap of spaghetti into her mouth, muffling the last part of the sentence.
I leaned back on the chair and closed my eyes. “Jenna’s less than a month older than Mom.”
Anya’s eyes went wide, and silence passed over the table before she finally spoke. “What? How old is Mom?!”
I glanced at the clock on our wall. It was 18:22. “Thirty-nine years, eleven months, thirteen days, ten hours, and three minutes.”
At that, Anya bawled on the spot, her tears splattering the spaghetti. Mom got up from her chair, walked over to Anya’s chair, and hugged her.
“It’s okay,” she whispered. “I’m still here.”
Anya sniffled. “How—how long until you’re forty?”
Now it was 18:23. My eyes burned, and tears threatened to fall. “Seventeen days, thirteen hours, and fifty-six minutes.”
“Seventeen days?!” Anya wailed. “That’s too short!”
Mom squeezed Anya tighter. I wished she could do that with me. “I know, honey, I know. Soraiya will take care of you, don’t worry.”
I suddenly felt angry. Of course I had to take care of Anya—who else would? But who would take care of me? I was only fifteen. It wasn’t supposed to be my responsibility. Adults weren’t allowed to have children after they turned twenty-two—kids needed to be eighteen before at least one parent turned forty.
My mother, of course, had me at twenty-four, and had Anya at thirty-one. So all three of us were illegal, and it had made my life a living hell. I couldn’t go to school, or go outside at all, really. The Counters were always watching and looking for unregistered people. So yeah, that sucked.
Mom’s voice startled me. I refused to look at her, even though I could see her on my left side staring at me. “Don’t call me that.”
“Soraiya, are you okay?”
Motivated by sudden anger, I raised my voice. “ 'Okay'?!” I didn’t care that Mom flinched. “Of course I’m not okay. You had both of us illegally, and now we have to pay the price. Why would you do that?!”
Anya cried even louder.
Mom sighed, still trying to make eye contact. “I’m sorry, Soraiya, I was young and dumb, and I had a kid.”
“Young and dumb? You were thirty-one when you had Anya! That’s far past ‘young’,” I spat.
“I know, I know. I’m sorry. You were more of a rebellious stunt, but Anya was an accident.”
Ouch. Good thing Anya was crying too loudly to hear that. Hot tears streamed down my cheeks. “I was a ‘rebellious stunt’?! That’s so dumb! Why would you have me when you knew I was illegal?!”
“Guys!” Anya yelled. “Stop! Please!”
We immediately turned to her. She was sobbing and covering her ears.
Mom hugged her. “I’m sorry, sweety…”
I stopped listening and looked the other way. Mom hadn’t hugged me, but she hugged Anya twice.
Why did the stupid world have to be like this? Maybe, dare I say it, it was better fifty years ago, before World War III, and before stupid Isaac Olten Smithborn made his stupid laws.
What law did he make?
All human lives were automatically terminated at the age of forty.
They won't judge you.
So many kids as lonely as you
would be grateful for your company.
The worst he can do is say no.
Just because they aren't
overly friendly to you
doesn't mean they hate you.
It doesn't matter
what they think of you.
Little Ava squeezed her eyes tight.
She dove under the covers with fright.
From her closet came a red light.
A hand pulled the door open slight.
She took a breath. It'd be all right—
Nothing would happen—not tonight.
Please not tonight!
Don't kill me tonight!
But yet the creature devoured her in one bite.
"Daddy, what if it doesn't work?" Charlotte stood in the teleporter as Derek attached the wire to her head.
"I've been a scientist for decades, honey. I know what I'm doing."
She brushed her blond hair out of her face. "Well, I've chewed food every day for six years, but I still bite my tongue sometimes."
That made him freeze. What if something bad did happen? This had never been done before. Never on a living creature.
Nonsense. He had chased his whole life for this. He had built his whole life on this. All the people the told him he was crazy; all the people who said he was too intense; all the people who said he didn't know when to stop: he would prove them wrong. He wasn't going to chicken out now. Charlotte would be perfectly safe. He had tested with other objects before, too. They had all come back in tact.
Derek flicked the power button and smiled. "You'll be just fine. Get ready to go to this spot, thirty years ago!"
The machine shuddered as the engine turned on. Charlotte's frown turned into a grin. "Okay, Daddy. I trust you, and you wouldn't let anything happen to me."
He pushed the button, and she was gone.
Derek pushed the second button, the one to pull her back into the present. For some reason, he was nervous. He had done this countless times with inanimate objects, why should this be any different?
And then she appeared in the teleporter.
For a second, he thought everything was okay. Until she collapsed onto the cold floor.
"Charlotte?" He knelt down and detached the wire. "Are you okay?"
Her eyes were blank.
His heartbeat quickened. "Charlotte?" He felt for her pulse, but there was none. Instantly, he started CPR. But it was no use.
After nearly thirty minutes, Derek gave up. He examined her, but nothing seemed to be wrong. She hadn't been harmed in the slightest. And yet, there she was—dead.
And then it occured to him. The electric shock that sent her through the fourth demensioin and into the past must have stopped her heart. Of course it wouldn't appear to harm an object—it wouldn't have a heart to stop.
Derek stood up. He wouldn't quit now. Not after his entire life's research was for this. He had to achieve time travel, no matter what it wook. He would fix the machine. It should be easy. He would dial down the electricity, and then try again with someone else. Perhaps it was good he tried it with his daughter first—her young, fragile heart was more seceptible to the shock, and trying it on his wife might have made the danger go unnoticed. Mistakes made you learn better, after all.
He grinned. Nothing would stop him from achieving his dream.
All In Your Head
“Sir, I said I wanted water, please,” I mumbled, looking at the waiter, who was giving me a broad smile. He was holding a glass with inky black liquid and presented it to me like it was some kind of award.
It took him a couple seconds to respond. “Yes, of course. My bad. I’ll bring you some water right away.” I could barely hear him under the thundering rain that was pounding against the restaurant window. Placing the glass next to my plate, he spun around and strutted back to the chef’s office. I didn’t know how anyone could even mess up that badly on an order for water, but whatever.
Amber, my sister, laughed. “I dare you to drink all of that!”
I stared at it, shivering. I had gone to this restaurant with Amber because my parents thought we would be fine on our own. Amber was ten, but I was thirteen and could look after her. Now, I was getting uneasy. The restaurant was full of seats—none of which were occupied. Even the waiter had seemed creepy. He had wispy dark gray hair with a few white streaks and a wrinkled face, with a smile revealing yellow teeth that looked a little too friendly. Looking at the swirling pitch-black liquid, I wished I hadn’t come.
“So? Go ahead! Are you scared of a little grape juice?” She stuck her tongue out and made a mock-scared face.
That’s no grape juice, I thought. It wasn’t wine, either. There was no reddish tint to it at the edge, just pure black. Not wanting to make a fool of myself in front of my younger sister, whose blue eyes were staring at me expectantly, I rolled my eyes and brought the glass to my lips, taking the tiniest sip possible.
As I put the glass down, the waiter appeared again with normal water.
“Thank you, sir,” I mumbled as he set it down by my plate. I wrinkled my nose as I smelled something burnt. Looking up, I saw him holding a cigarette to his lips. Is that even allowed in a restaurant? Even Amber looked wary.
“Now, what can I get you two to eat?” he asked, smiling. I glanced at Amber. She figdetted with her hair tie and avoided his gaze.
“Um, we just came to get drinks, that’s all. We’ll be on our way now. Thank you, sir,” I said quickly, not wanting to be there a second longer. Giving him the money, we rushed out of the building.
It was pouring outside. The wind picked up, blowing Amber’s soaked, long, autumn-brown hair into my face. The raindrops blurred my thin glasses and I shivered in the frigid rain. Despite the weather, I was relieved to be out of that creepy restaurant. My relief didn’t last long, because I smelled something burnt and Amber suddenly let out an ear-splitting scream.
And that was when everything went black.
I stretched farther back against the couch and fumbled around for the remote. Grasping it, I clicked the TV on and turned it to the news channel.
“How’s it going?” Amber popped into the room.
“Okay, I guess.” I rubbed the back of my head, groaning as my hands reached the bruise. It was better than yesterday, at least.
“Are you still up for a bike ride?” I winced. Two weeks ago, I had fallen off a bike and hit my head really hard, and it still hurt. At least, I think I did. I didn’t really remember it, but Amber told me I had. All I remembered was a burnt smell and thundering rain.
Normally, I would say no, but Amber wasn’t the kind of person that took no for an answer. She would just keep pushing until I agreed. Plus, I didn’t want it to look like I was scared in front of someone who was three years younger than me.
“Sure,” I muttered, my voice echoing against the walls.
Sighing, I got up and walked with Amber into the garage. We got on our bikes and went outside.
Pedaling as fast as I could, I raced against Amber, the wind whipping my blonde hair into my face. A few trees whizzed by as I pedaled harder.
“Wait! I’m tired!” Amber called from behind me.
Reluctantly, I slowed down to a stop and turned to her. “Do you want to go back?” Wait, what? Why was my voice echoing? I glanced around. There were no hills or trees in sight—we lived in the vast plains of Vermont. There was nothing that could cause an echo. “Do you hear that?”
“No,” she said, gazing at me curiously. Why didn’t her voice echo?
“Okay then.” Maybe I was just imagining it. As I moved my hands to turn the bike around, something stopped me. My hands wouldn’t go farther apart from each other. I yanked my hands outwards, but it was like some invisible rope was tied around my hands. “Let’s get back to the house quickly,” I mumbled to Amber, noticing that she moved her hands freely. What was going on?
Shaking my head, I biked back home, all my excitement gone. Eventually, we reached the garage and I put my bike away. As I was walking into the living room, a voice came from my ear.
I screamed and spun around, only to find no one there. Fear seemed to grip my lungs and strangle them as I stood frozen in place, horrified. Who was speaking? My heart pounded in my chest and my ears were roaring. And then I realized the voice had echoed.
“Only me.” Suddenly, I realized the voice was vaguely familiar. Where have I heard that? I spun around desperately, trying to find the source of the voice, but I couldn’t. “Calm down. Look at me. What do you see?”
A burnt smell touched my nose. I recognized it, too. Where had I smelled that? An image flashed into my head. An image of inky black liquid and rain battering against a window, cigarette smoke fogging up the view. I could faintly remember my head throbbing with pain, but that had happened when I fell off a bike, hadn’t it? Not somewhere with cigarettes and black liquid...right? I tried to remember where I had seen it, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to slip away, like trying to remember a far away dream. Pushing the thought away, I squinted my eyes and tried to look at where the voice was coming from. “I see...nothing. It’s just my house. What do you want from me?!”
“Your house? Hm, I see.” Was that glee in his voice?
“But...who are you?!” I cried, grabbing the closest thing to me and flinging it in the direction of the voice. It passed through the air as if nothing was there. But if nothing was there, then what was I hearing?
“Elizabeth. Calm down.” The voice was closer now. All of a sudden, something grabbed my arm, twisting it behind my back.
“Amber!” I screamed, but there was no response. Struggling against whatever was attacking me, I screamed and thrashed. “Help!”
I heard a chuckle, and the thing released me. That didn’t stop me from screaming and running around, trying to find Amber and get away from whatever had grabbed me.
The old man chuckled to himself as he leaned forward in his chair to look at the security camera better. Amused, he sat back and lit his cigar again as he watched the girl continue to scream. Her tied-up hands were pounding on the white brick walls of the asylum. She clawed at her scarred face and yanked her blonde hair, still screaming. The man smiled as he remembered his triumph from two weeks ago. Images of inky black liquid flashed through his mind as he remembered his long years of work, until he had finally done it on that rainy night. For two weeks, he had been monitoring her, making sure everything went as he had hoped. He had confirmed it a few minutes before, when he spoke to her. He had finally done it, after ten long years. Watching in amusement as the girl continued to shriek, he let out a puff of smoke.
The human mind is so easy to fool…
she wanted to be happy forever.
so the genie granted her wish.
happy, hanging out with her friends
happy, hiking through the woods
happy, playing the violin
happy, at her brother's funeral
happy, that others were crying
happy, when called heartless
and happy that she didn't care about anyone else